(by Stephen Dinan, WashingtonTimes.com) – Congressional Democrats’ last-ditch, pre-election efforts to [repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] and [pass the DREAM Act were defeated by] a Republican-led filibuster Tuesday, dealing a setback to those trying to lift the ban on openly gay troops serving in the U.S. military.
The filibuster also ended Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hopes of attaching an amendment legalizing illegal immigrant children to the defense bill.
Immigrant- and gay-rights groups blasted the GOP move, and Democrats said they might try again later this year. In the meantime, they tried to get the maximum mileage politically out of Tuesday’s filibuster, with one Democratic leader accusing Republicans of “cowering” behind procedural rules.
But Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said trying to force immigration-reform and gay-rights debates on the defense bill was more about the upcoming midterm elections than it was about making laws.
“It was a blatant and cynical attempt to galvanize the Hispanic vote in the case of the [immigration bill] and also energize the gay and lesbian vote,” Mr. McCain said.
The filibuster likely ends the Senate’s major legislative business for the year, leaving lawmakers to pass stopgap spending measures, approve some nominations and finish other odds and ends before facing voters in November.
Two Democrats joined 40 Republicans in support of the filibuster, which blocked the Senate from even beginning debate on the defense bill. The authorization bill includes popular programs such as pay raises for the troops, as well as tackling [controversial] issues like abortions at military hospitals and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
That policy, developed under President Clinton in 1993, dominated much of the debate, and gay-rights groups declared Tuesday’s vote a major test of support. …
One of those lawmakers, Sen. Susan Collins, voted in committee to end [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] and said she still thinks it’s time to change the rules. But Ms. Collins added that Senate Democrats weren’t guaranteeing a fair floor debate on that and other parts of the bill.
“For the life of me, I do not understand why [Mr. Reid] doesn’t bring this bill to the floor and allow free and open debate and amendments from both sides of the aisle,” she said.
Many Republicans wanted to debate amendments on how the U.S. would handle trials for suspected terrorists, and also wanted a chance to try to strike language that would allow military hospitals to provide abortions to women willing to pay for them.
But Democrats accused Republicans of hiding behind procedural objections, rather than fighting over the amendments themselves.
“Stop cowering in the shadows,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and a major backer of the immigration proposal, known as the Dream Act, which would legalize many illegal immigrant children.
The final vote was 56-43 to end the filibuster, with GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski not voting and Mr. Reid switching his vote at the last moment in a parliamentary move to preserve his right to bring up the legislation again. Sixty votes are needed to defeat the filibuster. …
Considered must-pass legislation, the defense policy bill has become a catchall this year for many issues that have piled up as Congress tackled health care, financial regulations and spending to try to create jobs.
Foremost among them is the military’s policy on homosexuality in the ranks.
Thousands of troops have been dismissed under the policy [since it was put into place in 1993 by President Bill Clinton], including some in critical jobs such as translation or intelligence work.
Democrats said both the country and the military have changed since 1993, and are ready for gays and lesbians to serve openly.
Earlier this year, there appeared to be an agreement to let the military finish surveying troops to see whether changing the policy would hurt readiness, and then let lawmakers review those findings before lifting the ban.
But over the summer the Senate Armed Services Committee voted instead to lift the policy, contingent only on top military leaders’ certification that it wouldn’t harm readiness.
Republicans and some Democrats objected to that, saying that Congress should wait for the review.
Their stance was boosted by Marine Gen. James Amos, who has been nominated to be commandant of the Marine Corps and who told a congressional panel Tuesday that a survey found a majority of Marines are opposed to changing the policy.
Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrats, joined with Republicans in the filibuster, which led Mr. McCain to declare the filibuster effort bipartisan.
Democrats said they haven’t shut down debate and said Tuesday’s vote was just about whether to begin considering the bill. They argued that Republicans should wait to see how the debate goes before deciding whether the discussion had been short-circuited.
“The time to determine whether or not there has been adequate opportunity to debate the bill is after you have had the opportunity to debate the bill,” said Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat. “That judgment cannot be made in advance.”
But Republicans said their experience last year, when Democrats attached an unrelated hate-crimes amendment to the defense bill, has left them unwilling to take chances.
Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC. Reprinted from the Washington Times for educational purposes only. Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.
1. What controversial issues were added onto the 2011 Defense Spending Bill that caused Republicans to filibuster the vote?
2. It is a regular practice for Congress members from both parties to add amendments unrelated to a particular bill to that bill. What do you think about this practice? Be specific.
3. Why did Republican Senator Susan Collins decide to filibuster even though she supports the issue of gays and lesbians serving in the military?
4. a) How many votes are needed to end a filibuster?
b) How many votes did the Democrats have?
c) Why did Democratic Senator Harry Reid switch his vote at the last minute to vote against his position?
5. What information did Republicans say Congress should wait for before voting on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
6. How do the majority of Marines feel about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
7. Think about the reasons for supporting and opposing the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Is this a case of protecting individual rights, or military readiness? (Some who want Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed have said that service members who oppose the repeal of the policy are bigots and homophobes and should get out of the military.) What do you think?
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) is the common term for the policy restricting the United States military from efforts to discover or reveal closeted gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members or applicants, while barring those who are openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual from military service. (from wikipedia)
The purpose of the DREAM Act is to help people brought into the country illegally when they were 15 or younger, who had lived in the U.S. five years and who graduated from high school. The amendment would allow them obtain legal status if they attended two years of college or the military. (from wsj.com)
Filibuster – An informal term used in the Senate to describe an attempt to block or delay action on a bill or other matter by lengthy debate, numerous procedural motions or other obstructive actions. It can be stopped only by a three-fifths cloture vote of the senators present and voting. (from america.gov)
Elaine Donnelly, of the non-profit Center for Military Readiness, says that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could drive people out of the military. “Combined voluntary and involuntary losses of careerists in communities, grades, and skills that are not easily replaceable could break the all-volunteer force,” she says. An unscientific survey of U.S. troops by the independent Military Times newspapers last fall showed 51 percent opposed lifting the ban.
Read a further explanation from Elaine Donnelly at law.duke.edu and at cmrlink.org/CMRDocuments/CMRPolicyAnalysis%28WEB%29-January2010.pdf.