Senate Republicans have been playing a neat trick to squeeze Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal off the Senate calendar. On the one hand, as the year comes to an end, they’re eating up the last days of floor time and refusing to debate any issues until the tax cut fight is resolved and the federal government is funded into next year. On the other hand, they’re laying out arbitrary — and totally new — benchmarks for how long it should take to debate the Defense Authorization bill (the vehicle for DADT repeal) to argue that there isn’t enough time to debate it this Congress.
Speaking on the Senate floor back in September, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed, “The Defense authorization bill requires 4 or 5 weeks to debate.”
This weekend on “Meet the Press,” he revised that figure down to two weeks. “Once you get on the defense bill, it typically takes two weeks,” he claimed.
Other Republicans want two weeks of debate as well — including moderate members who say they’ll support repeal but only if the process meets their specifications.
But a senior Democratic aide went back 20 years and found that spending two weeks on the defense authorization bill is a rarity.
Since 1990, the Senate has never spent anywhere close to four or five weeks debating that bill. Four times its taken longer than seven days — thus approaching or exceeding the two week threshold.
The Senate has spent five days (or fewer) debating the defense authorization bill nine times. And, once, back in the friendly days when Bill Clinton presided over majorities in the House and Senate, it took one day. On average, the process includes votes on about 12 amendments — though sometimes they vote on as many as 20 or 30 or as few as one or two.
Given all this, Democrats are steamed.
“Let’s remember that when we first voted on the bill in September there were no limitations on debate or amendments and Republicans still blocked it,” says a Senate Democratic leadership aide. “Now, with another chance to vote on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the GOP is demanding one to two weeks. They know full well that we don’t have that kind of time left on the calendar but it remains their enduring excuse for not voting for a repeal of this law that our senior military officials and a vast majority of Americans want.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.