Earlier this summer Congress appeared on the cusp of repealing the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" law following a compromise plan approved by both the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee. But further action on the plan has stalled since then, and gay rights groups are now questioning whether Senate Democrats will make the issue a priority before the November elections.
Senators will return to Washington, D.C. for four more weeks of work before heading back home for the final pre-election push. All summer long Senate leadership has said that passing the annual defense authorization bill (which contains the DADT repeal language) would be a top priority upon return. But now, with economic issues at the forefront of many re-election campaigns, officials have not set a date for when a vote on the military bill will happen.
That has left gay rights groups panicking. Yesterday the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network promised to protest at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's upcoming Las Vegas campaign events if a firm date isn't set for a vote.
In a mailing last night, SLDN officials said if the defense budget bill isn't passed before the elections, many Republicans have made it clear they will only agree to a continuing resolution to keep funding Defense Department operations.
That would mean that a full vote on the Defense Authorization bill might not come until the new Congress is seated. If Republicans make major gains in both chambers, as is expected, the issue likely will not have enough support to gain approval.
If the defense budget bill doesn't move to the Senate floor by the end of September, DADT repeal may not happen for several more years," according to a statement from SLDN.
Servicemembers United has scheduled a Capitol Hill lobbying blitz for Sept. 16 in an effort to push senators to vote on the issue as soon as possible. So far Senate officials are simply saying they are hopeful they'll have time to address the defense budget measure in upcoming weeks.