HASC chairman may not vote for defense budget bill if 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal is included
Published: May 26, 2010
House Democrats pushing to include a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal in the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill could end up losing a key supporter: The bill’s own Democratic sponsor. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said he believes the military budget bill should not include any repeal amendments, and late Tuesday promised to vote against any such move.
“My position on this issue has been clear — I support the current policy and I will oppose any amendment to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” he said in a statement. “I hope my colleagues will avoid jumping the gun and wait for DOD to complete its work.”
Earlier this week, the White House and congressional leaders agreed to include a delayed repeal of the ban on openly gay servicemembers in the defense funding bill, mandating the 17-year-old law be overturned after the president, defense secretary and joint chiefs chairman finish their yearlong review of the policy in December.
Gay rights groups hailed the compromise as a promise that homosexual troops will be allowed to serve openly soon. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was comfortable with the legislative plan, although he’d prefer to wait until after the review is completed before any action is taken.
The House Armed Services Committee passed the first draft of the authorization bill last week and the full house is expected to begin debate on the measure Thursday. Skelton had used Gates’ resistance to immediate legislation as the reason for not including repeal in his committee’s version. He repeated that again on Tuesday night.
“The Pentagon indicated that ideally, Secretary Gates continues to prefer that the Department complete this review before Congress considers legislation,” Skelton said in a statement. “This is a reasonable and responsible request that I respect.”
But staffers would not say whether Skelton will vote against the full funding measure if the “don’t ask, don’t tell” language is added on. Few pieces of legislation are passed by Congress with a lead sponsor voting against his own bill, and Skelton’s post as chairman of the chamber’s top military panel holds considerable sway in military funding issues.
On the other side, the top Republican on the committee, ranking member Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif. said Tuesday he will vote against both the amendment and the full funding bill if it includes the repeal language.
“The rush by the White House and Congressional Democrats to repeal the Clinton-era Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law sends a clear — and unfortunate — message to America’s military personnel and their families: while we entrust you with the heavy burden of protecting our shores, we would prefer not to have your opinion on this sensitive topic that will directly impact you,” he said in a statement.
The House is expected to begin debate on the measure Thursday.
The Senate must also consider the repeal language and approve the bill, then reconcile any legislation differences with the House, before the measure can be signed into law by the president.