- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2010

The push to end the policy barring openly gay men and women from serving in the military has new life on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have announced plans to push forward with their efforts despite opposition from most Republicans.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, told reporters Thursday that the repeal effort and the policy’s “injustice” was “alive and well,” and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada vowed to hold vote on the proposal before the end of the lame-duck session, which could run into December.

“Our Defense Department supports repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ as a way to build our all-volunteer armed forces,” Mr. Reid said. “We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so.”

Mr. Reid wants to attach the repeal onto the Defense Authorization Act, the blueprint for military spending. He told reporters that his proposed repeal would only go into effect after the Pentagon finishes a review of repeal implications and after President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ensure it will not hurt the military’s readiness.

All three men support the repeal. That report is scheduled to be released Dec. 1.

Republicans, however, say time is running out on the 111th Congress and that any repeal likely will be crowded out other business, ranging from the proposed extension of the Bush-era tax cuts to spending bills that must be dealt with in order to keep the federal government operating beyond Dec. 3.

Donald Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, also suggested that proponents of the plan likely would not have the votes needed to shepherd the bill forward.

“They didn’t have the 60 votes before the election,” he said, alluding to the threshold needed to push the bill onto the Senate floor for a vote.

Considered must-pass legislation, the defense policy bill became a catch-all for many issues left on the table as Congress tackled health care, financial regulations and spending to try to create jobs.

Among them was a controversial provision, known as The DREAM Act, that would grant citizenship to some children of illegal immigrants and the military’s policy on homosexuality, which was established under President Clinton nearly two decades ago.

But Democrats’ pre-election effort to pass gay rights fell victim to a Republican-led filibuster in September.

Republicans have argued then and now that tacking these proposals onto the defense bill was an election year ploy and that both the repeal and The DREAM Act issue should be taken up separately.

Others, including Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, argued that it was wrong for Democrats to block Republicans from offering amendments to the defense bill.

Many Republicans wanted to debate amendments on how the nation would handle trials for suspected terrorists, and also wanted a chance to try to strike language that would allow military hospitals to provide abortions to women willing to pay for them.

Asked whether Ms. Collins, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, would support a repeal effort, her spokesman, Kevin Kelley, said “she wanted to vote for the defense authorization bill and supports the repeal.”

“Her issue at the time was that Majority Leader Reid had said he would not allow any Republican amendments to the bill at the time. She was opposed to that process, which shut Republicans out of the debate,” he said.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said that, this time around, Ms. Collins would get her wish.

Surrounded by more than a dozen Democrats on Thursday, Mr. Lieberman made the case that if they can get passed the procedural hurdles related to amendments that lawmakers corral the 60 votes, including Ms. Collins and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, needed this time to overcome Republican objections and advance the bill to the floor.

“The only reason not to get this bill done this year is a reluctance to spend the time to do it and that is just an unacceptable excuse,” Mr. Lieberman said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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