WASHINGTON (CN) – A Republican filibuster blocked the defense authorization bill from going forward Tuesday, with the Senate voting 56-43 against opening debate on the measure and slashing Democrats’ hopes of repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy through a bill provision.
Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln voted against moving forward with the bill, joining all 41 Republicans and preventing Democratic leaders from securing the 60 votes needed to begin debate. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska did not vote, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. voted “no” in order to bring the bill to the floor later.
Senate Republicans have complained that Reid was refusing to allow them to offer amendments alongside Democratic amendments that included the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the passage of the Dream Act, which offers a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants.
They accused Democrats of trying to tack on controversial amendments in order to galvanize support among gay and Latino voters ahead of November elections.
The bill, officially called the National Defense Authorization Act, would support the $725 billion annual Defense Department budget, including a 1.4 percent pay raise for troops and funding to reduce fossil fuels in the military fleet. It would also end a ban on abortions on military bases.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, signed into law in 1993, has led to the release of more than 13,000 service members and has cost the government an estimated $200 million, said Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on Tuesday, who supports the policy’s repeal.
Eight percent of members let go under the policy held critical occupations such as interpreters, and 3 percent spoke critical foreign languages, such as Arabic, Farsi and Korean, Collins said.
But Collins voted against proceeding with the bill.
Despite her support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Collins said she could not advance Democratic leaders’ efforts to block Republican amendments from reaching the Senate floor.
“I will defend the right of my colleagues to offer amendments,” Collins said. “They deserve to have a civil, fair and open debate; that is why I am so disappointed.”
“We should welcome the service of these individuals,” Collins said of gays serving openly in the military, “but I cannot vote to proceed on this bill under a situation that is going to shut down the debate and preclude the Republican amendments.”
Senate Republicans also argued Tuesday that the Senate should not make a decision on the policy until the Defense Department completes its survey of military members and personnel.
“The Senate should not be forced to make this decision now before we have heard from our troops,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. “We owe them the right to have their voices heard before we act legislatively,” he said.
McCain also called the amendment a “blatant political ploy” to energize the Democratic political base.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., agreed. “It’s a dumb thing to do…to advance a far-left liberal agenda in a time of war,” he said. Inhofe pinned Democratic leaders’ efforts to advance the bill as “totally political.” “It’s all set up for the Nov. 2 election,” he said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who managed the bill, argued that even if the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language was repealed, the policy would not change until the President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen agreed that repealing it would not have a negative impact on military readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.
“We’re not going to have any amendments unless we can get to this bill,” Levin said.
Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., said Democratic leaders’ refusal to allow Republican amendments was proof that the government is broken.
“What’s broken here is the determination by Republicans to not allow us to proceed to debate bills,” Levin said, in response.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., called it a “shame” not to move forward with the legislation, saying the best way to serve the military was by ending the “nonsensical, unfair policy” of banning gays from serving openly in the military. The Senate will likely vote again on the measure in November or December, after it returns from midterm elections.
“We will get the job done before the end of this year,” Lieberman said.