Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told the Blade on Thursday he’s expecting the full Senate to take up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in September after lawmakers return from August recess.
Advocates have been anticipating a vote on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill — the vehicle to which repeal language is attached — after the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 27 attached the provision to the bill and reported out the legislation to the floor.
Levin said the quickest possible route for passing repeal in the Senate is now reaching an agreement this month to take up the defense bill shortly after lawmakers return from August break.
“What we’re hoping to do before August is to have an agreement which will pave the way for it being brought up right after the recess,” Levin said.
Bryan Thomas, a Levin spokesperson, later clarified that Levin was referring to an agreement negotiated between majority and minority leadership.
Levin, who had earlier said he was hoping for a vote on the defense bill in July, said this agreement would eliminate the possibility of a filibuster on a motion to proceed after lawmakers return.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his organization is also urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the defense legislation to the floor “right after the Labor Day recess.”
“Yes, it would have been better if we were on the Senate floor this month, but the calendar was just too crowded,” Sarvis said.
Sarvis said scheduling the defense bill for a vote in early September is “absolutely essential” to move forward with repeal to finish legislative action “before Congress goes into ‘lame-duck mode.'”
“This is the bill that provides for the pay and benefits and equipment for all service members, straight and gay,” he said. “This bill and these core benefits for our [service members] should not be caught up in post election games and posturing.”
In addition to wanting to move forward with the defense legislation, proponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal have expressed concern about opponents of the language filibustering the defense legislation as a whole, or stripping out the provision with a substitute amendment or a motion to strike.
Levin said he doesn’t think either a filibuster or an amendment would succeed, but added the odds of a successful amendment passing the Senate may “depend on what the wording is.”
The senator said he hasn’t seen any draft amendments relating to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language, but predicted one would come to the floor.
“I haven’t seen it,” Levin said. “I know there will be, but I haven’t seen it.”
Sarvis said he shares Levin’s confidence that repeal language in the defense legislation can be retained.
“The Senate votes are likely to be close, but, in the end, I think, repeal proponents will prevail,” Sarvis said.