A recent letter in which the Senate Republican caucus has pledged to obstruct movement on legislation unrelated to government funding or taxes is complicating efforts for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
In the missive, dated Nov. 29, Republicans vow to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that they’ll vote against cloture for any legislative item until the Senate has “acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all taxpayers.”
“With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities,” the letter states. “While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.”
The letter is signed by all 42 members of the Republican caucus, including those who are seen as swing votes on moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” such as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.). Newly seated Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is also among the signers.
Capitol Hill observers see the letter as an attempt to derail movement on the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, as well as repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Legislation to repeal the military’s gay ban is pending before the Senate as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.
A Democratic aide, who spoke to the Washington Blade on condition of anonymity, said the letter is “very, very bad news” for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal efforts.
“They’ve essentially said that they’re going to vote against cloture on any bill but the tax bill, so they’ve actually just all drawn the line … on all armed services bills,” the aide said.
Kevin Kelley, a Collins spokesperson, said in a statement that although the Maine senator signed the letter and believes tax cuts and funding for the government “are the top two priorities for the lame duck session,” she still wants to see “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal this year.
“However, she also believes the there is time in December to consider all three issues, including the defense authorization bill, which includes a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Collins said. “She has made it clear that if the majority leader brings the defense authorization bill to the floor and allows sufficient debate and amendments, she would vote to proceed to that bill.”
In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, chided Republicans for not being as committed to the defense authorization bill as they are to taxes.
“The Republican caucus that has expressed strong support for a vote on extending the Bush era tax cuts should be as equally unified in support of a vote in the lame-duck session on the nation’s defense bill, the very bill which provides for our security and the well being of service members who defend us every day,” Sarvis said.
Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said the letter underscores Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a ”sole focus on obstruction” and wants to make President Obama a one-term president.
“Rather than dealing with the myriad of issues that face this country, he’s made clear what his route is,” Stachelberg said.
Stachelberg also noted a recent report from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargeant quoting a Collins spokesperson as saying even though the senator signed the letter, she would be open to voting for a motion to proceed on the defense authorization bill.
Additionally, Stachelberg said she’s had conversations with people on Capitol Hill suggesting Collins, Sen. Richard Lugar and Sen. Lisa Murkowski would be open to voting to moving forward on the defense legislation.
“They actually maintain that while the focus should be on taxes and the economy, that they believe, too, that other issues should be considered as well,” Stachelberg said.
One gay GOP organization was sympathetic to the goals of the letter. R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said Congress must push forward with tax legislation “to avoid punitive tax increases come 2011,” but said the Senate can take action on taxes as well as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the year’s end.
“Further, while time is limited, the Congress can complete action on taxes as well as a ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] repeal inclusive [defense authorization bill],” Cooper said.
Download a copy of the letter here.