With tax cuts, unemployment benefits, the START treaty, the DREAM Act, a Ground Zero workers’ health care bill, continued funding of government operations, not to mention the National Defense Authorization Act spending bill, is there any room left on the calendar for the bill everyone was talking about last week, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban against gay and lesbian service members in the military?
After the Senate Democrats went down to defeat in efforts to extend tax cuts for the middle class over the weekend, President Barack Obama announced he would seek unemployment assistance and other support for the long-term unemployed, as part of a deal with the Senate Republicans on extending tax cuts, during the remaining days of the lame duck session of Congress.
President Obama also made clear last week that getting the START Treaty ratified is a priority for his administration by inviting former Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell to the Oval Office, seeking his public endorsement announced in an open press avail. ”Now it’s time to get this done,” Obama said, with Powell at his side. “It is important for us to make sure that we complete the evaluation process, we finish the debate, and we go ahead and finish this up before the end of the year.”
(Note: There was no mention of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at the presser by either the President or the General, who presided over its adoption in 1993, and has come out publicly against it recently.)
White House officials have claimed ratification of the START Treaty is an emergency because Russian nuclear weapon sites have not been inspected since Dec. 2009 when the treaty expired. But the White House “emergency” on the START Treaty is really about vote counting –when the Senate returns in January, there will be six fewer Democrats in its caucus, making it much more difficult to get the necessary 67 votes needed for ratification.
On Friday afternoon, according to Politico, White House staff from the Office of Public Engagement that included director Tina Tchen, her deputy Brian Bond, and legislative affairs aide Chris Kang, attempted to reassure gay advocacy groups that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell remained a White House priority and there was enough time for debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the repeal language.
Later during the same afternoon, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate would adjourn on Dec. 17th for the year, but not before he lambasted John McCain for his rigid opposition to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” During Reid’s floor time, he was reminded by Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to include the bill on the Senate’s agenda (see video).
We believe tax cuts and unemployment assistance are a priority with so many Americans out of work, or under-employed. But we remain concerned with so little time left–about 12 days (including a weekend) in light of announced White House priorities and the schedule announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will drop off the agenda without adequate time for Senate debate needed to obtain the 60 votes needed for cloture, enabling a floor vote that assuredly will pass. Some senate experts have observed that the NDAA and the defense appropriation bills can take up to two weeks, if not longer for amendments, debate and voting, depending upon the hostility of the minority party. Given this scenario it is likely that the NDAA may not even come up for vote, with so few days left for legislation action–this would be a first in 48 years. The NDAA also includes pay raises for all service members.
As the weekend proceeded several statements made by Republican Senators Richard Lugar, Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader and John Kyl deepened our concern that DADT will fall off the Senate agenda. A Lugar spokesman issued a statement indicating that “DADT needed more study” before moving forward. By Sunday evening both McConnell and Kyl said that DADT was dead for this Congress and there was not enough time for debate and amendments on NDAA.
A number of commentators have lamented Obama’s and the Senate Democrats’ weak leadership in handling the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, including New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd who wrote: ”Once again, the Democrats waited too long to close the deal, the president showed no leadership, and a campaign promise that was seen as a fait accompli now seems a casualty.” A New York Times editorial published on Dec. 4th titled “Inside the Beltway, a Deficit of Purpose,” also pointed out that the White House should not be trading core principles for a deal on tax cuts, although Democrats did not vote on tax cuts before the elections, thus, negotiations were put off to the lame duck session, putting the White House in a weakened position.
Here is a list of legislation, besides early mentions, that is likely to be taken up by the Senate in the next 12 days:
The Dream Act, according to the National Immigration Law Center is a bipartisan legislation that addresses the tragedy of young people who grew up in the United States and have graduated from our high schools, but whose future is circumscribed by our current immigration laws. Under current law, these young people generally derive their immigration status solely from their parents, and if their parents are undocumented or in immigration limbo, most have no mechanism to obtain legal residency, even if they have lived most of their lives here in the U.S. The Dream Act would provide such a mechanism for those who are able to meet certain conditions, including serving in the Armed Service or by going to college. The White House has given the Dream Act regular visibility on its home page, which includes a fact sheet on the bill.
The Zadronga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would provide $7.4 billion over 10 years for health care and compensation for those whose illnesses are blamed on working at Ground Zero, according to the New York Daily News. Reid has indicated he will try to force the bill to a vote this week amid strong Republican opposition, which only includes one Republican senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois. Reid needs 60 votes to bring the bill to the floor and for cloture. All 59 Democrats senators are supporting, including two independents and needs one more Republican. Usual suspects include Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe from Maine, who might join with Democrats.
Continuing resolutions to fund government operations, pay salaries i.e., must be adopted by the House and Senate because many appropriation bills remain outstanding. In the Congress, all funding bills must begin in the House and authorization bills must be adopted first, before appropriations can be processed for a vote.The White House management of the DADT repeal process can be defined as political malpractice. It has been quite clear from the begining that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been in charge from the moment President Obama turned it over to the Pentagon. In fact, the Washington Post reported over the weekend that allegedly that Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff and Jim Messina, deputy chief of staff, begged Gates to allow the Congress to move on DADT, knowing that losing the House was likely, as early as May, but he refused.
Gates, known to be an adept bureaucrat, seems to have really dropped the ball this time, when it really counts. His calendar called for the release of the Pentagon’s report after the midterm elections, when most first term presidents lose a minimum of 25 seats. The Gates time line and calendar undercut the likelihood of passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and now we all see a weakened Democratic majority in the Senate that left too much business to the lame duck session. Reid’s calendar, unless changed, insures that the repeal of DADT will be pushed off to another day and time sometime in the future.
These actions taken as a whole, reflect the height of incompetence and cynicism on the part of the Obama White House and the Senate’s Democratic leadership. Clearly, the White House, along with the Senate, have made its priorities known for several days now. They plan to take care of constituencies that will insure their reelections. What does this say about America’s promise? We hold ourselves out and open our doors to those from around the world who are political oppressed and to those who are dispossessed, and yet our politicians have apparently decided to leave lesbian and gay servicemembers during a time of two wars on the side of the road.
They will not cast their votes to take us across the bridge to freedom and justice this time and we will not let them forget it.
The New Civil Rights Movement
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.