By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com December 08 2010 12:00 AM ET
Senate majority leader Harry Reid may bring to a vote today the National Defense Authorization Act with “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal attached, according to a Senate Democratic aide.
Democrats might make use of a narrow window of down time if the four bills scheduled for a vote today fail to garner the 60 votes necessary to proceed to debate. Those bills include a firefighters collective bargaining bill, the DREAM Act, a 9/11 firefighters health compensation measure, and a measure extending a one-time $250 payment to senior citizens. If all fail, the NDAA could be brought to a vote by sometime Wednesday afternoon.
The strategy is still preliminary but a source familiar with the negotiations said the White House had begun to engage on the issue and President Barack Obama intends to make calls to key GOP targets.
The vote would merely be a procedural vote to move to debate on the defense bill and does not guarantee final passage of the legislation or the repeal provision that's attached. Nonetheless, advancing the bill to the Senate floor would be a major victory, but whether the 60 votes can even be found to beat a Republican filibuster is still in question. Every member of the GOP caucus has signed a letter stating they would not consider any other bills until government funding and extending the Bush-era tax cuts had been passed. Government funding was extended once but needs to be addressed again by Dec. 17, and the tax issue remains outstanding.
President Obama announced Tuesday a deal with Republicans that would extend the tax cuts to both middle class households and the top 2% if income earners as well as extend unemployment insurance compensation. But the deal is meeting with stiff resistance within his own party.
UPDATE 3: Senator Harry Reid has postponed any possible vote to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" until more negotiations can be made with Republican senators. The decision comes after Reid has been in talks with Republican Sen. Susan Collins over the opportunity to open debate to the full senate, and add amendments to the Defense authorization bill, which included DADT repeal language.
UPDATE 2: A Senate aide is expressing concern that forcing a vote through as early as Wednesday on the National Defense Authorization Act could ultimately doom the legislation and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal provision that is attached.
“We believe that there would be sufficient Republican votes to move the bill, however, those Republicans are saying that they need consideration of the tax bill first,” said the aide. “If the defense bill comes up today it could quite likely fail.”
The aide said calling the defense authorization up for a vote now would not leave enough room in the schedule to “properly debate” the bill, which would likely take several days even if an agreement can be made to abbreviate the amendment process. “We're potentially at a moment where the repeal could be killed unless it’s given proper consideration,” said the aide.
Asked if the Senate would be willing stay later to consider the defense bill after taxes, the aide said constituents need to make their voices heard.
“The Democratic caucus needs to know this is a priority that it gets done because it will not get done next year of the following year,” said the aide.
But a spokesman for majority leader Reid rejected that assessment.
"I strongly disagree with that suggestion," said Jim Manley.
Manley said Republicans were simply "hiding behind a letter," referring to the pledge that GOP caucus members made not to consider other bills until taxes had been addressed.
"If it's not a letter, it's going to be the amendment process. If it's not the amendment process, it's something else," he said.
Asked if negotiations had broken down between Sen. Reid and key Senators like GOP Sen. Susan Collins, Manley said, "Sometimes the way to jumpstart a discussion is to have a vote. We can keep on talking until the cows come home, but time's wasting."
UPDATE 1: Sen. Mark Pryor, one of two Democratic Senators who joined a Republican filibuster of the NDAA in September, issued a statement Wednesday morning indicating he would now vote to advance the measure if it comes to a vote. More here.