- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

Senate Democrats postponed a vote Wednesday on the F-22 fighter program that would pit some members against President Obama, instead taking up a gay rights measure Democrats have pursued for more than a decade.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin blamed Republicans for blocking the F-22 vote and prolonging debate of a measure that would broaden federal hate-crime law beyond race-based crimes to include offenses motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The two measures, which are amendments to the annual defense authorization bill that directs about $679 billion in military spending for fiscal 2010, have stymied the must-pass legislation.

“We are bogged down and right now tempers are flaring a little bit,” Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said on the Senate floor.

He blamed Republicans for stalling a vote on funding the F-22s and prolonging the debate of the hate-crime legislation.

Republicans noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has the power to set the voting schedule.

Still, the standoff over the two amendments could stall the defense legislation until the middle of next week.

Further delays could be in store. Disputes are brewing over lawmakers including more funding for missile defense than Mr. Obama requested and over a possible amendment by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, that would put an 18-month moratorium on dismissing homosexuals from the military under the “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy.

Senate Democrats have pushed the hate-crimes legislation since 1993 and successfully added it to two of the past three defense authorization bills, though both times it was removed in negotiating a final version with the House.

Emboldened by having a Democrat in the White House, supporters are optimistic it will make it to Mr. Obama’s desk this year.

The F-22 program, however, has caused a rift between Congress and the White House.

The president wants to stop buying the fighters, but lawmakers included $1.75 billion to order seven more of the planes, drawing a veto threat from Mr. Obama.

The fight to keep the F-22 program is being led by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, whose home state of Georgia also is home to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 plant.

Democrats backing the plane reportedly include Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii and banking panel Chairman Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut.

Mr. Obama found an unlikely ally in his Republican rival from the 2008 presidential election, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who sponsored an amendment to strip the F-22 funding from the bill.

Mr. McCain said Democratic leaders, who have a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, could force a vote on any measure they want but chose the hate-crime bill over the F-22 issue.

He said the hate-crime bill was both highly controversial and irrelevant to the defense bill. The hate-crime bill deserves to be debated at length as stand-alone legislation, he added.

“The Senate majority leader, whose job it is to move legislation, is now blocking passage of the defense authorization,” Mr. McCain said. “It’s wrong.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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