Fearful that delaying action on "don't ask, don't tell" until after the midterms could potentially kill the measure for the year, repeal advocates are pushing Senate majority leader Harry Reid to schedule a Senate floor vote on the defense funding bill in September.
"I'm a little anxious," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "The reality is the number of legislative days in this Congress are rapidly dwindling, and we need to see that the defense authorization bill up on the Senate floor in September."
When Congress returns to Washington next week, the Senate will have until October 8 when they leave for the midterms to take the crucial vote on the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which contains the provision to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."
But one political operative and repeal advocate noted the bill will be competing for attention with new legislation Democrats are pushing that would provide tax breaks for businesses.
"The Democrats are trying to figure out what they can effectively do in those four weeks to distinguish themselves from Republicans before the midterm elections," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The tax cut issue may provide that contrast."
The source wagered that if the Senate floor vote does not take place before the midterms, the defense funding bill would have a "50-50" shot of passing before the end of this Congress. If it is not finalized by year's end, the repeal effort will die.
Reid's spokesman, reiterating statements he made last month, told The Advocate the defense authorization bill stood a chance of being addressed upon lawmakers' return next week.
"It's on the list of things we would like to do in the next few weeks," said Jim Manley.
But it remains to be seen whether Republicans will continue to obstruct the bill and, if they do, whether Democrats have the grit to force the vote through, in which case they will have to produce 60 votes to end debate (reach "cloture") in order to get the bill to the Senate floor, where it will require 51 votes to pass.
Prior to the August recess, Manley said, the majority leader tried to reach an agreement with Republicans to move forward with a vote on the legislation, but Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- who was fending off a primary challenge from hard-core conservative J.D. Hayworth -- thwarted the effort.
"Now that [McCain's] primary is over," Manley said, "hopefully he will allow us to go to the bill."
McCain's office declined to comment for this article.
But Sarvis said hope may not be enough in this case and called continuing to accommodate Republicans "a prescription for failure." He's looking for Majority Leader Reid to file a cloture petition if Democrats cannot find common ground with the GOP on taking a vote.
"We reached a point where we can't sit on sidelines and let the opposition continue to object -- the critical hour is here," Sarvis said, adding that he believes Reid will keep his commitment to bring the legislation to the floor.
But if Sarvis does not see such a commitment soon, he said, SLDN will take the fight to Reid's home turf in order to lobby for action.
"We'll take it to Nevada or Arizona or wherever we need to go to get the job done," he said.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the Senate has no reason to shy away from addressing "don't ask, don't tell" politically because House members who voted for repeal have not been targeted on the issue.
"We have yet to see even one member where the fact that they voted for repeal is being used against them in their reelection battle," Sainz said.
Sarvis added that not taking a vote on the bill that funds the nation's national security would be highly unusual.
"I think there's 60 senators or more who want to see that defense authorization bill passed," he said. "This would be extraordinary to hold up funding for the troops, for their pay and benefits, their equipment, rifles, and armor as they wage war halfway around the world for our country."