They admit it could be a tough fight, but senior Democrats are hinting that they will mount a last-ditch effort to try to repeal the military’s ban on gay service members during the lame-duck session of Congress this fall.
During a press conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama said the 17-year-old law could “potentially” be repealed when the current Congress convenes Nov. 15 for a final legislative session. He said he wanted to wait until the release of a Pentagon review of the policy, expected on Dec. 1.
“It’s time for us to move this policy forward,” Obama said, adding the rule could potentially be repealed in the short session of Congress after the elections, when fellow Democrats will still control both houses.
The House has voted to change the law but unless the Senate takes it up in the final weeks of the “lame-duck” legislative session, it will effectively die.
Obama is under pressure to act after a series of court decisions created confusion for the Pentagon.
A federal appeals court on Monday ordered the ban to remain in place while the Obama administration challenges a lower-court opinion declaring the policy unconstitutional.
Also on Wednesday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid — fresh off a nail-biter victory over Republican challenger Sharron Angle — said the “don’t ask” repeal could pass with some cooperation from the current crop of congressional Republicans.
Reid said Wednesday that a critical Defense Department authorization measure that contains a repeal of the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy banning openly gay Americans from serving in the military could possibly be squeezed into a short lame-duck Senate session, but that its ultimate fate will depend on Republican cooperation.
The majority leader said he spoke earlier Wednesday with Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and that Levin is “anxious” to get the proposal to a Senate vote when members reconvene on Nov. 15. But Republicans will first have to agree to a procedural process, which could take longer than the Senate is willing to stay in session before Christmas approaches.
“The problem we have with the defense authorization bill is that it takes a while to get done,” Reid said. “If we can get some agreement from the Republicans that we can move the bill without a lot of extraneous amendments, I think it’s something we could work out. That would be my goal.”
But Rachel Slajda at TalkingPointsMemo notes that having DADT as part of a large defense authorization bill may hinder its passing:
Republicans, including the pro-repeal Log Cabin Republicans, have argued that the bill is so large and complex that they need to be able to offer amendments. Part of the reason a cloture motion to begin debate on the bill in September failed, they say, is because Reid would not allow any amendments.
BUSH TAX CUTS, ARMS TREATY ALSO ON TABLE
Sweeping Republican gains in the US Congress mostly won’t become a reality in the Capitol until winners from Tuesday’s vote are sworn in come January, giving Democrats a narrow “lame-duck” session to wrap up unfinished business.
That includes passing spending legislation to keep the government running, a measure to extend at least some tax cuts due to expire, a food safety bill, and the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Moscow.
It promises to be a bruising affair: The White House and top Republican leaders have paid lip service to embracing greater cooperation on critical matters, but are still far apart on government spending and the tax-cut plans.
Obama has called for extending those tax cuts, enacted in 2001 and 2003, that go to middle-class Americans and some businesses, but said the uppermost rates should be allowed to rise lest the swollen deficit balloon further.
“My goal is to make sure that we don’t have a huge spike in taxes for middle-class families,” the president said at a post-election press conference Wednesday, stressing he was “absolutely” willing to negotiate with Republicans.
“How that negotiation works itself out, I think it’s too early to say,” said Obama, who warned any approach must be one that “first of all, does no harm.”
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, on track to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker in January, stuck to his guns in insisting that all of the tax cuts be extended.
“We continue to believe that extending all of the current tax rates for all Americans is the right policy for our economy at this time,” said Boehner.
Democrats hoped for action on the START pact, which has yet to draw enough support from Republicans to reach the 67 votes required for Senate ratification in what would be a major diplomatic victory for the president.
While some Republicans have denounced plans for ambitious “lame duck” action as going around the will of the voters, the party used the weeks after the 1998 mid-term elections to impeach Democratic then-president Bill Clinton.
— With a report from AFP