December 25, 2009 at 2:53 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Senate panel approves DP bill, takes OPM to task

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) praised the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act as a way for the federal government to compete with the private sector in attracting the most qualified workers. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

A Senate panel approved legislation last week that would provide domestic partner benefits to LGBT federal workers, but not before criticizing the Obama administration for allegedly not providing information on how to offset costs for the bill.

The Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee reported out the legislation — known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act — on an 8-1 vote. The lone vote of dissent during the markup was Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah).

Counting the votes of senators who didn’t attend the markup and voted by proxy, the legislation was reported from the committee, 10-6.

The legislation, S. 1102, would make available to the same-sex partners of LGBT federal workers benefits afforded to the spouses of straight employees, including health and pension benefits.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the committee’s approval of the bill “is an important step toward guaranteeing equal compensation for lesbian and gay workers serving our government at home and abroad.”

But key supporters of the bill criticized the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during the markup for not explicitly providing information on how to offset the cost of the legislation — an estimated $63 million each year — and said a Senate floor vote wouldn’t take place until that data is provided.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chair of the committee and sponsor of the bill, said he earlier asked OPM to provide information on costs offsets, but received no information by the time of the markup.

“We’re willing to do this and finance it within offsets from the existing OPM budget,” Lieberman said. “They were unable, for some reason, to get that information across to us this morning.”

Lieberman pledged that a Senate floor vote wouldn’t take place until OPM provides the information to senators. He had said earlier during an October committee hearing that he expected a floor vote on the bill early next year.

In a statement, OPM director John Berry, who is gay, responded to the comments from Lieberman and others by praising the committee for approving the legislation and promising to work with senators as the legislation progresses.

“I am confident that we will be able to work with [the Office of Management & Budget] and the Committee to address the concerns raised today so that forward progress can continue,” he said.

Both Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) praised the bill as a way for the federal government to compete with the private sector in attracting the most qualified workers.

Collins said the legislation would be particularly effective in attracting younger people to the federal workforce.

“It matters to them — whether they are straight or gay,” she said. “It matters to them because they view it as part of the offer that any good employer would provide.”

CPAC retains gay group as sponsor, despite boycott threats

A prominent, conservative convention is letting a gay group remain a co-sponsor despite threats from others who say they might boycott the event.

Organizers of the national Conservative Political Action Conference, set to take place in D.C. in February, are allowing GOProud, a gay conservative group, to continue as a co-sponsor in the face of calls to exclude it from the event.

Asked about the boycott threats, a CPAC spokesperson deferred to a statement from event director Lisa de Pasquale that was published this week in Hot Air, a conservative publication.

“After talking with their leadership and reviewing their web site, I am satisfied that they do not represent a ‘radical leftist agenda,’ as some have stated, and should not be rejected as a CPAC cosponsor,” she was quoted as saying.

On the agenda for GOProud, according to the organization’s web site, is repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. It supports gun ownership rights and privatization of Social Security and favors repealing the estate tax. The group was among those that opposed the nomination of U.S. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said he’s “excited” his organization will take part in the event, which some consider the most important annual gathering for conservatives.

“I just think that we’re excited to be a part of it,” he said. “I don’t have anything more to add to that. We’re just moving ahead and looking forward to being part of that important event.”

Although GOProud contributed $4,000 to co-sponsor CPAC, LaSalvia said a decision hasn’t been made yet on whether the group would have a speaking role at the event. He said more details would become known after a meeting in January. — By Chris Johnson

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

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