Senate to take up defense bill, DADT repeal

SENATE TO TAKE UP DEFENSE BILL, DADT REPEAL…. In May, repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was well on its way. It passed the House with relative ease, and was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee as an amendment to the 2011 defense authorization bill. The White House was pushing repeal behind the scenes; polls showed strong, bipartisan support for the change; and repeal was endorsed by everyone from Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell.

And then, nothing. Senate Republicans did what they always do, and forced needless delays.

Next week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intends to end the games and bring the Pentagon spending bill to the floor.

The defense bill contains critical military policy as well as a provision that would repeal the ban on openly gay people serving in the military. Reid was scheduled to meet with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Monday afternoon to discuss his plans.

Gay rights groups view September as a critical month in the Senate for the fate of the defense authorization bill and the provision to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Any action delayed until after the Nov. 2 elections could diminish the chances of repeal for the Clinton-era law.

By all indications, Republicans will try to block the bill from coming to the floor — despite recent rumors to the contrary, the GOP doesn’t much care for gay people — meaning Democrats will, once again, need 60 votes to move the spending bill forward.

Will they get it? Time will tell, of course, but despite bipartisan support and common sense, it should be a close call. In the Senate Armed Services Committee, for example, the vote was 16 to 12, with Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) voting with Republicans, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) siding with the Democrats.

Two other angles to keep in mind here. The first is to remember that the vote next week isn’t just about DADT. This is the measure that sets the annual military budget and policies. When Republicans try to block this, they’re trying to block funding the Pentagon during two wars.

The second is that, as a technical matter, it’s arguably an exaggeration to characterize the policy as a “repeal.” It’s a shorthand description, but the language in the bill actually just empowers the administration to change the policy. Even if the Senate approves the change, and it becomes law, DADT will remain until the Defense Department acts, and that likely wouldn’t happen until after ongoing reviews are complete.

Nevertheless, this will be the key moment on Capitol Hill, and concerned citizens on both sides will likely be working the phones quite a bit, urging senators to either end this ridiculous policy or maintain an ineffective, discriminatory, expensive policy that undermines military readiness.

If it fails, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” status quo will likely remain on the books for several more years, since the midterms are expected to move Congress considerably to the right.