The Senate today is poised to vote on the Defense Authorization bill, a critical measure setting military policy but which also includes provisions to complete the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act allowing illegal immigrant children the chance for a college education.
Handicappers think the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and immigration amendments stand a slim chance at passage, and Senate aides say leadership is likely to set aside the bill to consider it for final approval later after the fall elections. Reports from Capitol Hill suggest enough Democrats — like Sen. Jim Webb (VA), according to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow — will join with Republicans to filibuster the measure.
The defense authorization measure also lays out policy positions on Guantanamo Bay detainees, Pentagon priorities and more. But it’s political season, which means Senate Republicans are bound to be a little, shall we say, hypocritical about what they think should be in and out of the bill. After all, when the Republicans were in charge, plenty of measures unrelated to defense spending made their way into the defense authorizations.
If you’ve heard any of the Republicans speak on the Senate floor, you’ve heard them complain that Democrats have crammed in unrelated measures to help themselves on Election Day.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said it was “astonishing” the Democrats are trying to “press ahead with their various liberal agenda items while they’ve still got the chance.”
“They want to use this week for a political exercise they want to weigh this bill down with controversy in a transparent attempt to show their special interest groups that they haven’t forgotten about them ahead of the election,” McConnell bemoaned.
In several cases, the Republicans are right — and they should know.
In 2006, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist proposed an amendment that would have restricted online gambling, to shore up his conservative credentials ahead of an anticipated presidential run. Democrats cried the provision was “totally out-of-scope” with the bill. Sound familiar?
The year before the GOP pushed to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and drilling through amendments to the defense bill. Then there was the dustup over Frist sticking a flu vaccine provision into it — without approval of a House-Senate conference committee. Huffington Post has more on the flu fight here.
Frist postponed debate after an amendment to redefine the military’s detention and interrogation policies prompted a veto threat from the White House.
The Senate is still debating detainees this year. President Obama’s White House this morning complained the administration disagrees with a provision in the bill that blocks funding of the transfer of detainees. This is a crucial part of the administration’s plans to eventually close Gitmo.
“Individual detainee transfer determinations should be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all factors, including the threat posed by the particular detainee, U.S. legal obligations and broader U.S. national security interests,” the administration wrote in a letter to the Senate. “This provision restricts the United States’ ability to make these case-by-case decisions for over seventy percent of the detainees being held at Guantanamo.”
On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the administration told the Senate that it supports the language included in the bill to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military upon the completion of the Pentagon’s review.
Late Update: The vote on the bill has been delayed, with Sen. Susan Collins announcing on the floor this afternoon she’ll join with the Republicans and filibuster.
Collins (R-ME) said:
“I find myself on the horns of a dilemma, I support the provisions in this bill,” she said. “I think it is the right thing to do. I think it is only fair… But I cannot vote to proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down the debate and preclude Republican amendments. That too is not fair. So, I’m going to make plea to my colleagues to enter into a fair time agreement that will allow full and open debate, full and open amendments to all provisions of this bill including Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Later Update: Despite earlier reports that Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) would support GOP efforts to block the bill over DADT, he voted with the Democrats to proceed with debate. The measure nonetheless failed.
[Ed note: this post was edited after publication]