New GOP House bill reopens debate on gays in the military

With the “Obamacare-repeal” legislation passed yesterday in the U.S. House, California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter has introduced the next Republican Congress repeal effort. Hunter’s “Restore Military Readiness Act” is reopening debate on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the 17-year-old policy lifted by lawmakers in December that banned gay soldiers from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces. Hunter’s bill, which Colorado’s Doug Lamborn signed onto as a co-sponsor, is already being criticized not as a true policy initiative but as a way to revisit the issue of gay rights and military readiness that generated sparks during the last days of the previous Democratic-controlled session of Congress.

Hunter’s bill would require the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to independently sign off on whether or not to allow gays to serve openly. The Pentagon has already suggested that such a measure has no place in the world of the military, where strict adherence to chain of command is everything. The law repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in December already requires the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Obama as Commander in Chief to sign off on the process through which the ban on openly gay soldiers will be ended.

Hunter’s bill is sure to come under fire from Democratic lawmakers and progressive voters who see the debate over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as well-worn ground and as a legislative battle already won. More significant perhaps, the bill may also come under fire from voters and analysts on the right whose top priorities in the midterm elections were to bolster the economic recovery and rein in government spending.

The Government Accountability Office reported recently that the military spent more than $193 million between 2004 and 2009 to replace roughly 3,660 troops discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A University of California committee looking into the costs of the policy maintained that the GAO estimates were conservative. The UC Palm Center released a report in 2006 that estimated military spending on recruiting, discharging and replacing gay soldiers in the first decade of the policy was roughly $363.8 million. (ThinkProgress has posted a short blog on the topic that includes two of the charts from the recent GAO report.)

Hunter, a Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said in a release that his bill “isn’t necessarily” about lifting the repeal of DADT.

“The idea… is rather to ensure that military readiness and combat effectiveness are not adversely impacted. Given that the service chiefs carry most of the day-to-day responsibilities for each service branch, their independent certification is just as important and equally necessary.”

Hunter is a long way from the Marine Corps. “Independent certification” is the kind of phrase you may search long and hard for and fail to find in a Marine training manual.

Gen. James Amos, a Marine Corps commandant who publicly opposed the repeal in December, said he wouldn’t hesitate to implement it if Congress passed it as law.

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