Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Partisan Loyalty in the Senate

I finished this article about three weeks ago. It was about a piece of legislation that, long story short, was being voted on in the Senate. I never got around to posting this and then just recently the DADT policy was deemed unconstitutional and recruiters around the country began accepting gay applicants.

So anyway, my article is just a tad irrelevant. I’m still going to post it though because there’s a lot in here about how the senate works (or doesn’t work) and how partisan bickering is ridiculous and causes senators to vote with their party instead of voting in favor of issues they really care about. And my title sucks but I couldn't think of a better one.

Recent Vote in Senate good example of Political Maneuvers and Partisan Loyalty

There was a whole lot of news coverage recently regarding the annual National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2011. A lot was said about the potential repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a policy which has been in place for 17 years and bans homosexuals from serving openly in the military. But what does being openly gay in the military have to do with a national defense budget? And why did several moderate Republicans who were identified as pro-repeal advocates refuse to proceed with the bill? All of the articles I read pertaining to this recent vote in the Senate just seemed to confuse me more. I learned quickly enough that there was much more going on with this bill than just budgeting our military operations…

It is important to explain that this National Defense Authorization Act did not include a straight-up repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attached to the bill language that would have given the Department of Defense the authority to decide whether or not to repeal. A true bon voyage of the policy would come from the combined authority of the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nevertheless, this successful filibuster by the Republicans was a definite set-back for gay rights.

I think maybe I should back up a step and talk about this guy Harry Reid. Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, is the Senate Majority leader and therefore has a lot of influence over legislative proceedings in Congress.

Reid had attached three controversial provisions to this bill. Republicans argued that the attached DREAM Act, the language potentially repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and an amendment to ban the practice of “secret holds” on presidential nominees had nothing to do with the defense budget.

As the Majority Leader and organizer for his political party, Reid can not only attach new amendments and provisions to a bill, but he can decide which ones may be debated on. In this case he allowed debate on only these 3 amendments. The provisions, their timing, and more so the bill’s restricted amendment process are what stirred so much anger with Republicans. Republicans claimed that bringing up these issues was a purely political move aimed at bolstering support of GLBT people and Latinos for the mid-term elections in November.

Let’s be honest: this was true.

However I think in addition to being a tactical maneuver it was also a genuine push by Dems to make changes before entering the lame duck session. Not moving forward the way they did with this bill would be like not taking a double-jump in checkers. They had to do it this way; even though it ended up splitting Republicans and Democrats right down the middle.  

Many moderate Republicans, who are in favor of overturning the policy, were found with their backs against the wall. Rather than voting with their gut they were forced to keep with their party. In a speech before the vote took place Collins addressed the cost of DADT:
There is a cost involved in our current policy. According to a 2005 GAO report, American taxpayers spend more than $30 million each year to train replacements for gay troops discharged under the don't ask, don't tell policy. The total cost reported since the statute was implemented, according to GAO, has been nearly $200 million, and that doesn't count the administrative and legal costs associated with investigations and hearings[…]
No moderate Republican, such as Collins, Olympia Snowe, or George LeMieux, would go out on a limb on this vote.

With mid-term elections coming up in early November, this failure to end the Republican filibuster and start debate on the bill seemed inevitable. DADT should have been attacked years ago. Instead it has sat unchanged for so long and now seems impossible to budge.

Very soon, Democrats might lose control of the Senate. They pushed this bill forward because it was indeed a way to keep and possibly gain votes, but also was possibly the last chance for a long time to implement a repeal of DADT, institute the DREAM Act, and to change the policy on secret holds. The mid-term elections are considered a great indicator of the incumbent President’s performance. In the last 17 midterm elections, the majority party has lost an average 4 seats in the Senate and an average 28 seats in the House.

There are few times in American politics that have actually brought me to the edge of my seat. These mid-term elections coming up are definitely one of those times. I think this is because I genuinely like the Obama administration and want them to have more time. Obama and the Democrats have inherited this mess of a country and I think they are being judged to harshly.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written... I was unaware of some of the information you presented . Though I watched CNN's coverage of the debates, hearings and commission, I was quite confused as to why Harry Reed did what he did. (his last amendment.) You brought clarity to the subject... Explaining the process of the Government is never irrelevant... thanks for posting it. Liz