December 9, 2010
By Adam Bink
Following the defeat of the National Defense Authorization Act which included repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this afternoon by a vote of 57-40 (more in this thread here), Sens. Lieberman, Collins, and Mark Udall have announced they would move a stand-alone bill repealing the statute. This move was endorsed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, who promised them he would use Rule XIV to bypass the committee process and bring it directly to the floor, not to mention that he asked to be added as a co-sponsor.
Privately and publicly, I’ve seen a lot of skepticism about this strategy, best articulated by Jenny at 5:18 PM PST in the previous thread, who wrote:
I don’t really see how putting the DADT repeal as a free-standing bill will change anything. Won’t they still have to overcome the inevitable filibuster that Republicans will put up. Since they’ve all agreed to not allow anything to come to a vote until they get their tax cuts, there still won’t be 60 votes- even with Sen Collins. Do they think other Republicans will go against the letter?
These are entirely legitimate questions, and these questions combined with my promise to get into the latest news lead me to a state of play post. A couple of things regarding where we stand, why repeal is still viable and why perhaps even more so than earlier today:
1. The first concern I have heard is that, so what, there will still be a filibuster. This ignores what the filibuster is based on. The biggest obstacle to repeal, at this point, is no longer policy, but process. For more on this matter, I’ve articulated the same argument here and here. It is clear that 60 votes in favor of repealing the policy exist. Whether or not there is commitment from 60 Senators to vote in favor the Lieberman/Collins/Udall/Reid stand-alone bill is something we have to find out- and something with which Courage Campaign and I will be asking your help, and I will be tracking over the next several days here on P8TT- but it is clear that there are 60 Senators who are pro-repeal.
Given that the amendment/debate process has become the biggest obstacle, the simplest and best solution to overcome this is a stand-alone bill. A stand-alone bill does away with much of the negotiation process on amendments/debate time on NDAA that Sens. Reid and Collins could not come to an agreement to. It is, simply put, and up-or-down vote on whether or not to repeal the statute. While it’s true that Republicans could still introduce and filibuster amendments, it is the best path forward. So to answer Jenny’s question, yes, they will still have to overcome the inevitable filibuster. But the filibuster you saw today was on process; not policy. As such, a filibuster on an up-or-down bill is a problem, but not an obstacle that can’t be overcome.
2. A second concern I have heard is that such a bill would have to re-pass the House of Representatives. These should be allayed by Speaker Pelosi’s announcement that “an army of allies stands ready in the House to pass a standalone repeal of the discriminatory policy once the Senate acts.” And yes, the House can bypass the House Armed Services Committee and bring a bill directly to the floor. Last, don’t forget that the House already voted in favor of an “up-or-down” bill in the form of the amendment offered by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) over Memorial Day weekend. This was a straight up-or-down vote on the policy with the same certification language- no other strings attached. Not to mention, given how the Pentagon report allayed some Senators’ concerns, we might actually pick up a few more votes in the House. So, this is not much of a concern.
3. A third concern is that none of this will go anywhere since the Republican tax cut letter is still in play, that letter pledging to not support moving forward on anything until the tax cuts issue is resolved. This is also a valid concern, and one articulated by Sen. Collins. But, that does not necessarily mean nothing will ever go through the Senate ever again. Two simple possibilities: (1) The tax legislation passes the Senate, or passes the Senate/House and is signed by the President (it’s not clear what the Republicans’ requirements are), and our problem is resolved, or (2) two Republicans cave. One of these is entirely possible, and frankly, along with the 3rd possibility that tax legislation doesn’t pass and the Republicans hold fast, one of those three is inevitable, since something has to happen one way or another. Given the urgency and attention being paid to this issue by everyone here in DC, it’s very likely the first will be the outcome. Also, given that Sen. Collins has personally exempted NDAA and thus DADT from her own letter “signature”, if tax legislation didn’t pass, we would need just two more votes- not the entire Senate Republican caucus- to give in and vote in favor, assuming Sen. Lincoln with us on the issue itself (she voted in favor today, but so did Webb back in September while opposing repeal- her position on the policy is not yet clear). Not crazy or impossible, to answer Jenny’s question. Frankly, having seen people on both sides of the aisle cave on pledges regarding this or that throughout the political years, there are crazier things to hope for.
So basically, it’s true that another bill would add onto an already crowded calendar. But that doesn’t mean the path to success is terribly worse off than the current path, or that “none of this matters since the Republicans signed that letter”. In this ever-shifting environment, the tax situation could change as early as tomorrow, and then the roadblock is cleared.
4. A fourth concern is timeline, given that Sen. Reid’s target adjournment date is December 17th. This is a very real concern, and it is unacceptable that the Senate would adjourn for the holidays without acting upon an issue that is important to our national security, not to mention a promise that all the legislative leaders and President Obama made. And rest assured we at Courage and elsewhere in the pro-repeal community have and will be keeping a careful eye on, and applying pressure to, legislative leaders regarding this issue. But it doesn’t mean that Sen. Reid can’t change his mind and the Senate can’t work through the holidays. Don’t forget when the first Senate vote on health care reform came: Christmas Eve 2009. This has been done before for critical issues. It can and should be done on this, and a cacophony of voices urging this to happen has risen.
5. A fifth concern is the length of time required to move such a bill. After speaking with Congressional procedure expert David Waldman, who blogs at Daily Kos/Congress Matters and organizes on Senate rules reform, there are several paths. One path could take approximately nine calendar days, which would include first and second readings, cloture vote on the motion to proceed, motion to proceed, cloture vote on the bill itself, vote on the bill itself, and House passage (the full list of motions and votes is so long it makes you pine for a functional, majority-rule Senate, but I digress). Another path could be taking a dormant House-passed bill that’s been passed back and forth between the House and Senate and amended once or twice, and stripping everything out and replacing it with the DADT repeal text and sending that back to the House instead. That’s shorter, and might not require a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. That might be doable in about 4 days, if you can really cut out the filibuster on the motion to proceed, according to David. So in short, this will take some time, but if its given priority over other bills and the calendar is extended, it can be done.
The bottom line is that we have some work to do- starting with acquiring commitments from 60 Senators to support this new stand-alone bill- and will need your help. But assertions that this is “dead”, or it will never work, are mistaken, and it can be done. It can be done starting with your help tomorrow on acquiring those commitments, and by attending the rally on Capitol Hill sponsored by a few dozen leading progressive organizations (if you’re in DC or nearby, you should come too).
Let’s get to it.
Courage’s statement is below.
MILLIONAIRES BEFORE SOLDIERS: COURAGE CAMPAIGN ISSUES STATEMENT ON FAILED DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION CLOTURE VOTE
Courage Campaign says Senate must not adjourn without passing legislation repealing DADT
WASHINGTON: Moments ago, a motion to proceed on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation which includes funding for our troops, a pay raise for U.S. military personnel, support for those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, and repeal of the military’s failed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy was defeated by a vote of 57-40 in the United States Senate.
An NDAA including DADT repeal is supported by 80% of the American people, the President, majorities in both houses of Congress, 2/3 of our active military according to a recent Pentagon study, and America’s top military commanders (including the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).
With America at war in two countries, 42 Senate Republicans have vowed to block action on any legislation without passage of an extension of Bush era tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican voting to proceed with the legislation.
In response to today’s developments, Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of the Courage Campaign issued the following statement:
“With America at war in two countries, a small minority of U.S. Senators has declared war on our troops–holding our security, support for wounded warriors, funding for our efforts Iraq and Afghanistan, and the careers of thousands of mission critical specialists facing the prospect of unnecessary discharge hostage to tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. What’s worse is that these very tax cuts will make our country less secure by deepening America’s debt to countries like China and Saudi Arabia.
Today’s Senate vote is a betrayal of the sacrifice born not by millionaires and billionaires–but by the brave servicemen and women who enable them to prosper. Our troops do not get to come home for the holidays, and neither should the U.S. Senate until they pass this important legislation.”
The Courage Campaign is a multi-issue online organizing network that empowers more than 700,000 grassroots and netroots supporters to push for progressive change and full equality in California and across the country. Together with VoteVets.org, Rep. Patrick Murphy, and Outserve, the Courage Campaign has mobilized nearly 700,000 petition signatories from all 50 states and around the world advocating DADT Repeal–including more than 12,500 veterans and military families. Watch videos and read the stories of Veterans and military families who support repeal at www.couragecampaign.org/testimony.