Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 5, 2010

PASS THE DAMN REPEAL.... The Washington Post reports this morning that the White House hosted a private meeting on Friday with some leading advocates of repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Officials, according to the report, were optimistic, "saying that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen would not have testified this past week if they did not believe the bill could reach Obama's desk before January."

It appears the pieces are in place, or at least very close. This week's report from the Pentagon prompted two Republican "moderates" -- Maine's Susan Collins and Massachusetts' Scott Brown -- to announce their support for repeal (though both said tax cuts have to come first). Rumor has it those wouldn't be the only two GOP votes.

With this legislative landscape in mind, I suspect Greg Sargent's impatience, which I strongly endorse, is a common sentiment on the left.

Now that Republicans have successfully filibustered Obama's plan to continue tax cuts for everyone but the wealthiest Americans, the only way Dems can walk out of the lame duck session with a genuine victory is to repeal don't Ask Don't Tell. So it's good to see that White House officials are still privately signaling that a vote is likely to happen.

Getting Republicans to agree to a vote on New START, while hugely important, wouldn't count as winning something. It has been endorsed by a whole range of GOP foreign policy experts and former officials. It should be a no-brainer. Repealing DADT is the only remaining way this year for Dems to remind their supporters that they are still capable of winning, that there's a reason to elect Democrats, and that Dems aren't pathologically predisposed to getting rolled in the name of "compromise."

Just do it. No nonsense about the calendar. No excuses about GOP obstructionism. Make it happen.

Now, I suspect if Harry Reid were to read that, he'd say to himself, "Easy for you to say. 'Make it happen' is tougher in this Senate than it sounds."

I don't mean to sound unsympathetic. If the plan is to wrap up the lame-duck session once and for all on Dec. 17, Reid and the Democratic leadership have to pray the tax policy dispute is resolved very quickly, which in turn would (hopefully) lead Republicans to drop their hostage strategy. The Senate effectively has this week and next to pass a tax deal, a bill to fund the government, ratify New START, and bring DADT repeal, the DREAM Act, the corrected food-safety bill, and several other items to the floor.

More than a few repeal advocates are concerned that scrapping "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" may be the one thing that gets left out with so little time remaining. And though I'm sure folks get tired of seeing me write this, it's worth reemphasizing once more that, unlike some other measures, if DADT repeal fails this month, it's very likely Congress won't even consider it again until 2013, if not even later.

My suggestion, for what it's worth, is to forget about the scheduled completion date of Dec. 17. Reid has raised the specter of working the week of Dec. 20, and if he announces his plans to do so, it might loosen up some Republican stalling tactics -- since they'd like to go home sooner rather than later.

If the goal is to squeeze a whole lot of work into two weeks, some important measures will fail. So why not add a third week? Senators could still be home for Christmas, and Reid wouldn't have to tell his own allies, "We could have gotten repeal done, but senators wanted another week off for vacation, so U.S. troops will have to continue having their rights denied for a few more years."

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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My biggest fear is that the White House and Democrats in Congress still don't fully grasp what a big deal DADT repeal is, not just to gays and lesbians, but to many, many people on the left who see this both as an equality issue and as an instrument for Democrats to show some resolve.

So, everyone, starting tomorrow and every day thereafter when nothing happens: Call, write, and in any other way possible: Lobby senators and the White House to move heaven and earth to get past Republican intransigence to open the military to honorable service by all Americans.

A win would be wonderful for so many reasons, and not least among them is the knowledge of how much unhappiness that would bring to John McCain.

Posted by: K in VA on December 5, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

After two years of letting the GOP bully him, why would we expect Harry Reid to do anything. I'm wondering if there aren't a lot of Democratic Senators who like failing for the same reason that GOP Senators fail to get their social issues passed. They prefer to have their supporters want something than provide them what they want.

Harry Reid is a failure and the Democrats in the US Senate have boldly announced that they will fail for the next two years, too, by not replacing him with someone who will stand up to Republican bullies. Shame on our useless Democratic Senators.

Posted by: freelunch on December 5, 2010 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

"If the goal is to squeeze a whole lot of work into two weeks, some important measures will fail. So why not add a third week? Senators could still be home for Christmas, and Reid wouldn't have to tell his own allies, 'We could have gotten repeal done, but senators wanted another week off for vacation, so U.S. troops will have to continue having their rights denied for a few more years.'"

Damn right. Harry Reid is the biggest wimp to ever hold the Senate Majority Leader position. It would be better to have a lunatic like Angle representing Nevada and have someone with balls (like Durbin) running the show.

Obama is the target of first resort, but this coward has enabled most (if not all) of the paralysis in the Senate. If I were him, the Senate would be taking less time off than most working people (2 weeks).

Posted by: bdop4 on December 5, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Sooooooo......what do I see here? Is it the left capitulating? Does this mean you are spineless or is this out of principle? I could not believe my eyes as I've been reading this week liberal bloggers (not sure if you're one of them Steve)poo pooing the idea of extending the tax cuts in exchange for DADT and other middle class tax cuts not just the ones passed by bush, but also Obama's. It was just a month ago that Senate Dems got slammed for "failing" to get DADT repealed and all of a sudden DADT became less important than "ceding the argument to Republicans" on tax cuts for the rich. People better start preparing now, because if Obama can get a deal on his other agenda, the tax cuts will extend and you better best the House and Nancy Pelosi will accept it.

Posted by: Ansi on December 5, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

@K IN VA: Have you all been paying attention this week. The tax cuts negotiations have been going on because the Dems are trying to get votes on DADT and other things. Yet despite this fact the left was ready to commit mass suicide - metaphorically speaking. The WH and Dems have never flaked on DADT so I suggest you all start calling the REPUbLICAN Senators for once instead of constantly bashing the Democrats who ALL VOTED FOR IT LAST TIME.

Posted by: Ansi on December 5, 2010 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans are in the win-win position for the final weeks here. If the president blinks as everyone anticipates, tax cuts for the rich will be extended and POSSIBLY DADT will be repealed (don't count on it, however). If the tax cuts aren't extended, nothing gets done in this Congress until next year. Republicans will hammer Obama for raising taxes, the president will capitulate, and then hand Republicans another victory in the name of bipartisanship.

It's interesting to see the meme of Obama's weakness getting set in the national conversation. Holdouts like Steve, Kevin Drum and John Cole are now reluctantly admitting the truth. I suspect Andrew Sullivan will fall once DADT repeal fails. We have a president who doesn't fight and doesn't negotiate from a position of strength. And no one in the White House seems to care. As bad as Republicans are behaving, it's Obama's failure that really matters. And it is disheartening to realize that there's absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Posted by: walt on December 5, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's odd having all this focus on sexual orientation (per se, what attracts you and not necessarily what you do about it.) It is already disallowed under military code to have extra-marital relations (I know, essentially winked at when the right people do it and keep under wraps, but technically.) So gay service members, until they have significant marriage outlets, are expected not in indulge (ie, be "practicing homosexuals" as conservatives like to say.) So is the bare orientation itself still such an issue for many people? Is it the psychological issue, of someone attracted to you under military conditions? That is IMHO a game issue too, however we decide to deal with it. But soldiers shouldn't have been let go in any case just for having an *orientation.*

Finally, the enforcement made DADT creepy: having snoops creep around to spy on people is, well, creepy (and hurtful to many good people.)

Posted by: Neil B on December 5, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Obama could get in front of every camera he can find and point out that republicans are willing to prevent any tax cuts from passing, gay and lesbians serving their country openly, the ratification of a non-proliferation treaty and productive immigrants from gaining citizenship, if they can't get taxes for the wealthy. Tell the country every day that republicans are holding the country's business hostage so rich people can get richer.

It is a political softball. And if nothing passes, hammer them for 2 years as shameless shills for the wealthy.

Republicans should never be able to dictate the schedule of the senate. At the end of the day, they either support the legislation or they don't. Their intransigence on the taxes should be an anchor around their necks, not leverage to control the senate.

Posted by: Homes on December 5, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Off-thread, I want to observe that on this Sunday morning, Steve Benen has put up thoughtful, substantial posts at 8:00 AM, 8:35 AM, 9:35 AM and 10:25 AM. I know he is a professional, but this still strikes me as awesome productivity. And he maintains this pace from day to day. Just awesome.

I'd like to give him a round of applause.

Posted by: PTate in MN on December 5, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with the sentiment to repeal DADT, but as usual, they will need the requisite 60 votes in the Senate, assuming it passes the House (if it hasn't already). It's a ridiculous policy and to say it has worked after 14,000+ discharges is equally ridiculous. As a former infantryman who served with the Ist Marine Division in Vietnam in 1968, I find this especially ludicrous. Front line units don't care about things like this. You are literally busy 24/7 in some activity or another. Anoyone who thinks war is boring has not spent a year trying to get two hours of sleep a day. People like John McCain don't know anything about this issue. McCain, as I have said many times, has no credibility on this issue, virtually no combat experience, no infantry experience, and he sat out the war as a POW. He even opposed Jim Webb's more realistic GUI Bill and his voting record on veterans issues is appalling. People should sop listening to this old crank and look at this issue for what it is, a human rights issue that has already been addressed by numerous militaries in the West. Repeal it and move on. It's 2010, not 1810.

Posted by: max on December 5, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Why on earth would the republicans agree to pass *anything* prior to January? They will have a *much*, *much* stronger hand to play then. Honestly, they'd be fools not to delay.

The purpose of the negotiations is to move the debate on tax cuts to the right. They'll get Obama to make some concessions, find some excuse to scuttle everything at the last minute, blame Democrats, then start negotiations again in January where they left off.

My prediction: this will end up with *all* of the tax cuts extended permanently in January, in exchange for START passage and a vote (that will fail) on DADT.

Posted by: cyn on December 5, 2010 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

At this point, since it is clear that the tax cuts are going to get extended, I would support a temporary extension in return for a year-long extension of unemployment insurance, an extension of the Making Work Pay and other stimulus plan tax cuts, and a vote on the military reauthorization bill including DADT repeal.

I'm leaving out the DREAM Act because I don't think it has the votes and START ratification because that isn't even a compromise from the Republicans, since it will be ratified even if we wait for the more Republican heavy next Congress.

Posted by: Sam on December 5, 2010 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

What, exactly, have Republicans done over the past two years to make anybody think that once they get their extension of the Bush tax cuts that they'll all of a sudden turn around and allow a vote on repealing DADT? Good faith is to these people what sunlight is to vampires.

Dollars to doughnuts that once the GOP gets its tax cuts (the only policy they really truly care about) they will turn right around and obstruct repeal. McCain will go batshit and say the military doesn't want it, McConnell and Kyl will make noises about delaying in order to "study the issue further", and Collins and Brown--under enormous pressure from their caucus--will balk at voting with the Democrats and will claim with a straight face that it can get done in the next Congress.

I sure hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I am.

Posted by: TT on December 5, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

None of this stuff is going to get passed. None. I'd bet large amounts of money on it.

Posted by: beckya57 on December 5, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

"...Reid has raised the specter of working the week of Dec. 20, and if he announces his plans to do so, it might loosen up some Republican stalling tactics -- since they'd like to go home sooner rather than later."

We have thousands of troops overseas right now, and they don't get time off for the Holidays. There's limited time to pass legislature till the next congress convenes - so, Democrats, suck it up and work until the last minute of the last hour that this Senate still has power to wield. If that means you have to miss the Holidays with your families: so be it. If Private Jones in Afghanistan is willing to sacrifice that much for his country - so should you.

Posted by: delNorte on December 5, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

So let's see. Assuming continued Republican opposition (pretty safe), continued hostage taking by those Republicans who are allegedly pro-gay, and the usual defections among conservative (allegedly moderate) Democrats, it will take a Democratic majority of around 63 or 64 votes to get anything remotely pro-gay out of the Senate. When's the last time that happened? 1959-68.

So that's it then. No DADT repeal, no ENDA, no DOMA repeal, no UAFA in my lifetime (I'm 56, and given my parent's lifespans I've got 25-30 years left). I might as well relax and quit hoping, only to have my hopes dashed. Things are a lot easier that way. If anything good happens, I can be pleasantly surprised.

Well, and I can try to work for Dem majorities in the Michigan legislature (House in two years and Senate in four years), although I'm not sure Dems in the legislature will be too hot on actually doing anything either.

Posted by: Don K on December 5, 2010 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with TT. Even if the tax cuts are extended, there is little-to-no likelihood of the GOP becoming cooperative before the Christmas break. They'll just find another excuse.

Posted by: Seould on December 5, 2010 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Why should they be home by Christmas?

Reid needs to keep the Senate in session 24 hours a day, every day, including Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year's Eve until the ball drops. How dare they take time off while complaining they do not have enough time to do the nation's business?

Posted by: Tomm Undergod on December 5, 2010 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

Sen. Reid should promise to bring the tax legislation to the floor AFTER all the other legislation has been passed. Otherwise, he can expect the Republicans to vote for the tax bill and against everything else.
If necessary, keep the Senate in session until January 2011. It IS a time of war, after all!
Just ask any Republican...

Posted by: Doug on December 5, 2010 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK
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