New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal to end funding for the enforcement of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is being met with caution by pro-repeal organizations in Washington.
“It's helpful to talk about cutting funding for ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ discharges, but we must be strategic about when such a move would be made and now is premature,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Gillibrand is looking at adding an amendment to the government's overall budget during the budget resolution process, according to a spokesman for her office, which will be coming up for consideration in about six to eight weeks.
But at the moment Sarvis does not want to detract from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will be examining the gay ban over the next couple months in a series of hearings and then deciding whether to address a policy change in this year's Defense Department authorization bill.
Second, Sarvis does not believe the votes yet exist in the Senate to pass such an amendment. SLDN worked with Gillibrand’s office last year to explore the possibility of placing a moratorium on discharges and investigations for the remainder of the 111th Congress.
“When we did our whip count, the most we got was 44 votes,” said Sarvis, adding that even with last week's supportive testimony from Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense secretary Bob Gates, he does not believe that an amendment would garner the necessary votes.
“The last thing we need is for the first vote on this policy in 17 years to fail,” he said.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, expressed similar reservations about disrupting the process that’s now taking place in the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We want to make sure a vote on that would not foreclose pursuing a vote for full legislative repeal this year,” Nicholson said. “Moderate senators may not want to take a vote on the policy twice in 2010.”
A spokesman for Senator Gillibrand said she is weighing similar considerations to those being debated by advocates fighting to end the policy.
"The senator shares their objectives, but as she has done in the past, by raising alternatives, she expects to advance the debate toward full and immediate repeal," said Matt Canter.
Sarvis believes there's time for Gillibrand to explore the options as the Senate Armed Services Committee moves forward with gathering more testimony on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“She's looking for things to do that would be constructive, but at the end of the day, she’s not going to want to do anything that would be a drawback,” he said.
Sarvis added that SLDN might support such a tactic if some sort of measure is not included the DOD authorization bill, which lawmakers and LGBT advocates alike have agreed is the best vehicle for making a policy change.
“There will be time later in the year to add appropriations amendments,” he said.
Gillibrand first announced her proposal at a Human Rights Campaign fund-raiser last Saturday in New York City.
“Tonight, I am announcing that I plan to introduce an amendment to the budget that will bar the use of funds for the enforcement of this policy,” she said.
This article has been updated from a previous version.