The chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Monday expressed uncertainty over whether the Senate would have sufficient votes to move forward with major defense budget legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
During a news conference, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he doesn’t know whether there are 60 votes to end a filibuster and move forward with the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.
The vote for cloture on the legislation, which has language that would lead to the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is set for Tuesday at 2:15 p.m.
“I hope we can get to cloture,” Levin said. “I know a number of you will ask the question, ‘Do we have the votes?’ My answer is, ‘I don’t know whether we have the votes or not.’ I haven’t done a whip check.”
Levin said he hopes the votes are present to move forward with the defense authorization bill because of “critically important” provisions in the legislation related to military pay and weapons systems.
Provided all 59 Democrats in the Senate vote in favor of cloture, at least one Republican vote is needed to move forward with the defense authorization bill, but GOP leadership is reportedly withholding support for the bill because of a limit imposed on the number of amendments that can be offered on the floor.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said three amendments would be allowed for consideration of the defense authorization bill: an amendment to strip out the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language; a measure to attach the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, to the legislation; and a measure addressing the “secret holds” senators can place on presidential nominees.
Sources have told the Blade that moderate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), are seeking concessions from Democratic leadership in exchange for breaking with the Republican caucus and voting for cloture.
Levin said he’s unaware of any concessions that Collins or other Republicans are seeking over the defense authorization bill. Still, he said he’s spoken with the Maine senator about a previous version of the unanimous consent agreement.
“She and I talked about the consent agreement,” Levin said. “She had some difficulty with it. It wasn’t that she would vote for it if it were changed. That’s not what we talked about. It was she had some difficulty with an earlier draft, and, frankly, I thought she was right.”
Levin said he didn’t ask Collins during this conversation about how the Maine senator intended to vote on the cloture measure on Tuesday.
Asked by the Blade what would happen if cloture isn’t invoked on Tuesday, Levin said an unsuccessful vote would be a “real setback” and said he couldn’t predict what would happen if the bill came up again after Election Day.
“Anyone who tries to predict what will happen in lame duck has got a lot more courage than I do,” Levin said.
A failure to pass the defense authorization bill would almost be unprecedented. A Democratic aide said during the news conference that Congress has passed defense authorization legislation every year for the past 48 years.
If cloture is invoked on Tuesday, opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would have the opportunity to strip out the repeal language through an amendment on the Senate floor.
Levin said he doesn’t know what opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are planning when the Senate proceeds tomorrow with the legislation.
“I don’t know what we’re going to see on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Levin said. “It’s going to be up to people — if we can get to cloture — who will offer the amendment.”
A Democratic aide said the votes needed to strip the repeal language from the legislation would be either 51 or 60, depending on the agreement reached between majority and minority leadership.
But the main focus of Levin’s news conference was to address arguments from McCain, who has objected to advancing the defense authorization bill on the basis that non-germane amendments are planned for the legislation.
“For many, many years, we never put any extraneous items on the [defense authorization] bill, because it was so important to defense and we just didn’t allow it,” McCain said, according to a Levin statement. “Starting last year, Carl Levin and Harry Reid put hate crimes on it.”
McCain on the floor last week lamented that hate crimes protections legislation was signed into law last year as an amendment to FY 2010 Defense Authorization Act.
During today’s news conference, Levin noted that hate crimes legislation had been attached to defense authorization legislation three additional times prior to 2009, although the measure never made it to the president’s desk before last year.
“Sen. McCain is incorrect on at least two accounts in the one statement,” Levin said. “Last year was not the first time that hate crimes legislation was added to the defense authorization bill … and it was approved by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority each of those three previous times.”
Levin also said other non-germane amendments had been considered as part of the defense authorization bill, including measures on concealed weapons, indecency standards as well as a previous amendment on “secret holds.”
An amendment for campaign finance reform that McCain sponsored in 2000 was also considered as part of the defense authorization bill, according to Levin.
“If we want to give these men and women in the military confidence in their government, we should have fully disclosed who it is that contributes to the political campaigns,” McCain said in 2000, according to a Levin statement.
Levin said he defended McCain’s right to offer this amendment in 2000 as he plans to defend the right of anyone who introduces the DREAM Act this year.
“People have a right to use the rules here and to suggest anything to the contrary is just simply inaccurate and I think has no place in the debate,” Levin said.
McCain’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Levin’s remarks.
Also during the presser, Levin disputed an account that the DREAM Act would be attached to the defense authorization bill as part of a manager’s amendment that would be inclusive of defense-related items.
A Republican source had earlier told the Blade that Democratic leadership was planning consideration of the DREAM Act and a manager’s amendment as one measure.
“That’s news to me,” Levin said. “I would love to know where you heard it. I’d like to check your source.”
Still, Levin said he expects the DREAM Act to be the first amendment offered to the defense authorization bill on Tuesday following a successful cloture vote.