The vote was not very close -- 56-43 --and most of the wrangling appeared to be tied directly to the upcoming elections, not the merits of the defense policy bill.
Technically, Sen. John McCain -- helped by other GOP members -- filibustered the bill and the vote was about whether the Senate would rise up and cast 60 votes for a cloture vote, to choke off debate. But one could draw the conclusion that for third time Sen. Harry Reid has imperiled the defense authorization bill's chances of passage. Reid, always with his eye on fund raising, used what one gay and lesbian group fairly called "an uncommon procedural privilege on the bill that eroded support for breaking the filibuster and guaranteed the vote's failure. Intense lobbying and public pressure over the past week proved not to be enough to force either side to back down," ServiceMembers United said in a statement after the vote. "The Senate will not likely take up the defense authorization bill again until after the mid-term elections in November." And, one might note, the Congress will be pretty lucky to get a bill passed then as there will be very little time to pass any bills.
That timeline began to look even shorter today with reports from Capitol Hill that Senate Democrats, fearful of their fate in the elections, began discussing an early departure from Washington to campaign instead of sticking around until the end of the first week of October.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered a pretty persuasive defense of the bill and his inclusion of DADT language, at least on a technical basis. He led off in his Senate speech with the fact that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came out strongly in favor of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"Now, to suggest that Admiral Mullen somehow or other reached his conclusion because there's an election coming up, it seems to me, would be totally inappropriate, and I would hope that no one is making that suggestion. He reached a conclusion -- he reached a conclusion about gays and lesbians serving in the military. He stated his conclusion. Election-driven, insulting? Of course not. He reached a conclusion.It may have been appropriate but he lost.
"What we say in our bill is, very explicitly, there's not going to be a change in policy unless and until there is a certification from the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the President of the United States that the changes in policy which they are going to presumably provide will not undermine the morale, the recruiting, the retention of troops in the United States.
"Our bill that is in front of us specifically says, there will be no change in policy unless and until that certification comes. We want to hear from the troops also the way the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wants to hear from the troops, the way the Secretary of Defense wants to hear from the troops, as to how to implement a change in policy.
And we go beyond that. We say there will not be a change in policy unless and until there is a certification from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs that there will be no negative impact on morale, retention, recruitment. That, it seems to me, is a totally appropriate way to legislate."
What does this mean for the Pentagon? If no defense authorization bill passes it means less influence for the Senate Armed Services Committee and a freer hand for the military, who will not be constrained as much by detailed report and bill language. Of course, legislators will use the language they wrote in the House and Senate versions to bang the Pentagon over the head, but it won't have the effect of law -- just possible law.
Meanwhile, the defense spending bill looks pretty much dead. The conventional wisdom for weeks has been that Congress would pass a continuing resolution, dumping most government spending into one bill that basically continues spending at the same levels as last year. However, legislators can and have inserted specific program language into CRs or found ways to make their views known. That may be bad news for the F-35 and for the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle since the Senate, which often wins these battles with the House, wants to cut 10 10 planes and the EFV