DADT fight likely killed defense bill for this year
Published: December 10, 2010
WASHINGTON – Gay rights advocates vowed to keep fighting for a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law until the final day of the lame-duck Congress after Thursday’s defeat in the Senate. But for the annual defense authorization bill it accompanied, time has likely already run out.
On Thursday night, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he will continue to push for passage of the authorization bill, which includes a 1.4 percent pay raise for troops, renewal of most re-enlistment and retention bonuses, money for overseas military operations and several other military benefits issues. But “given the limited amount of time left in this Congress, that may be too high a mountain to climb.”
Congress hasn’t failed to pass a defense authorization bill in the last 58 years, and usually approves all its defense budget measures before year’s end even in the most contested political environments.
But lawmakers also usually have much more time to work on the bill, which runs hundreds of pages long. Levin noted that reconciliation of the House and Senate versions of the authorization for the last decade have averaged 75 days. The new Congress will be seated in 24 days.
“If we fail to act on this bill, we will not be able to provide the Department of Defense with critical new authority and extensions of existing authorities that it needs to safeguard our national security,” Levin said in a floor speech Thursday.
“For example, without this bill the Department of Defense will either lose the authority that it requested to support counter-drug activities of foreign governments, use premium pay to encourage civilian employees to accept dangerous assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide assistance to the Yemeni counterterrorism unit. It could have serious consequences for the success or failure of ongoing military operations around the world.”
House members had all but conceded even before Thursday’s vote that passage of the authorization act was impossible. Lawmakers there have already added $513 billion for the Department of Defense and $159 billion for overseas military operations as part of a continuing resolution, designed to provide the federal government with critical authorities if the other budget bills aren’t passed by the end of the year.
If passed by the Senate, that would keep the military from facing short-term cuts to personnel or operations and give the new Congress an opportunity to re-examine the full defense measure sometime next month.
But policy changes such as an extension of Tricare benefits to military dependents up to age 26, new wounded warrior care initiatives, assistance programs for families of deployed troops and other quality of life benefits will remain on hold.