Senate GOP blocks DADT repeal, military spending

SENATE GOP BLOCKS DADT REPEAL, MILITARY SPENDING…. One of the more striking aspects of this afternoon’s developments is how likely it seemed — fairly recently — that the Senate would do the right thing.

After all, just a few months ago, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and approving the defense authorization bill was very much on track. President Obama was on board, as was the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and two former Joint Chiefs leaders, including Colin Powell. Polls showed broad, bipartisan support for this, including a majority of rank-and-file Republicans. The House passed their version with relative ease.

The Senate is often a graveyard for worthwhile legislation, but even here, there was reason for optimism. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted with Democrats in committee, and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) signaled he would not support a filibuster of military funding. In May, with success looking secure, TPM ran a piece: “How The Deal To Repeal DADT Got Done.”

And yet, this afternoon, the deal got un-done. Republicans successfully filibustered a motion to proceed on the defense spending bill this afternoon, blocking a debate from even getting underway.

The final roll call: 56 to 43. It was actually 57 to 42, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote for procedural reasons, allowing him to be able to bring the bill back to the floor at a later date. And in the U.S. Senate, when 57 senators support something, and 42 oppose it, the 57-vote majority loses.

We are, by the way, talking about legislation that funds the U.S. military during two wars. It even includes money for a pay raise for Americans troops. But it also includes allowing servicemen and women to wear the uniform, even if they’re gay. Republicans would have had an opportunity to push an amendment to keep the DADT policy in place, but that wasn’t good enough, and every GOP senator on the floor today stood in lock-step to say, “No.”

They were joined by one two conservative Democrats: Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas. Lincoln may be under the truly ridiculous impression that joining Republicans to kill a military spending bill will help her salvage a re-election campaign she’s losing by more than 20 points. It won’t.

Of particular interest was Maine’s Susan Collins, who voted in committee for the same bill she filibustered today. To hear Collins tell it, she supports DADT repeal, but had to kill the legislation anyway, because of procedural issues — she wanted the Democratic majority to promise to allow more amendments during the debate.

She wasn’t satisfied with the response, so Collins ensured that there won’t be a debate, and the policy change she claims to support is likely dead for the foreseeable future.

In other words, in Susan Collins’ mind, Senate procedure matters more than fairness, equality, and decency towards U.S. servicemen and women. Collins — and Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown, the alleged “moderates” — sided with far-right, anti-gay conservatives over procedural nonsense.

Watching the debate, I was thinking of Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach. He’s an F-15 fighter pilot, and an 18-year veteran of the United States Air Force. He flew combat missions over Afghanistan in 2002, and over Iraq in 2003.

The U.S. government invested $25 million in training Fehrenbach, and it was money well spent — he’s a highly decorated pilot, having received nine air medals, including one for heroism. He’s flown 88 combat missions, and logged more than 2,000 flying hours. In the midst of two wars, this hero is ready to deploy again, serving his country honorably, but because of his sexual orientation, the government has said Fehrenbach’s services are no longer needed.

I’d love to see Susan Collins look Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach in the eye and tell him Senate procedure is more important than his career. For that matter, I’d love to hear Collins’ Republican colleagues explain why Americans are better off throwing Fehrenbach out of the military than allowing him to serve.

And just as an aside, try to imagine the response from Republicans and the media if, under Bush/Cheney, every Senate Democrat united to filibuster a debate on the defense spending bill in the midst of two wars.