December 9, 2010 at 12:32 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Levin wants imminent vote on ‘Don’t Ask’ legislation

Sen. Carl Levin wants a vote this week on 'Don't Ask' legislation (Blade photo by Michael Key).

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is calling for an immiment vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation as LGBT advocates fear moving forward with bill before negotiations are settled could doom the measure to failure.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Levin urged Senate leadership to bring to the floor before the week is out the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language.

“If we don’t proceed on this bill this week, then invoking cloture sometime next week, even if we can do it, it would be a symbolic victory,” Levin said. “And I don’t believe that there would be enough time to hammer out a final bill before the end of this session.”

Levin noted that after passage in the Senate, the legislation would still need to go to conference committee before heading to the president’s desk. The Michigan senator said over the past 10 years, conferencing the legislation has taken an average of 75 days.

“Even if we get 60 votes today to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill, and even if we’re able to consider amendments and pass this bill in a few days, it will be a possibly insurmountable challenge to work out all of the differences with the House,” Levin said.

The Michigan senator concluded that the Senate would need to bring up the   the defense authorization bill this week if the legislation is to be passed with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision intact.

“But the only way that this will be real and that the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, don’t Tell,’ assuming we continue to keep it in the bill, will be real is if we proceed to the bill this week.” Levin said. “We cannot and should not delay this vote any longer.”

Levin’s remarks concerned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal advocates who feel going to the vote too soon could bring an unfortunate result. 

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, warned the Senate against taking up the defense authorization bill before negotiations over the legislation complete.

“If senators move forward with a vote on NDAA before a deal has been solidified, the vote will fail and all key players will share the responsibility,” Sainz said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), earlier in the day said he’s “likely” to move forward with the defense authorization bill sometime on Thursday.

Reid has been in talks with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of repeal language in the Senate, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who’s seen as the most likely Republican to vote for the motion to proceed, to find sufficient GOP support in moving forward.

Assuming that all 58 members of the Democratic caucus vote in favor of the motion to proceed, repeal advocates would need to pick up at least two votes from Republican senators to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a filibuster and move forward with the legislation.

Collins has said she would vote in favor of the motion to proceed only after she’s assured a fair amendment process for the defense authorization bill and only after the Senate first takes up the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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