It is only a day’s difference, but the Pentagon’s decision to release its report on gays in the military next Tuesday instead of Wednesday lends a significant sense of urgency to a Congressional vote on the verge of collapse. If there is any hope of repealing the military’s discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, legislative action must begin immediately. Even an extra day can mean a great deal.
The incoming Republican leaders of the House have made it clear that allowing gay men and lesbians the justice of serving openly in the military is not a priority for them, meaning that the chances of repeal in the next Congress are very slim or none.
That vote, then, must take place in the current lame-duck session of Congress, where Democrats still predominate. The House has already approved repeal as an amendment to the overall defense bill, and Senate Democrats say they have lined up enough Republicans to get past the 60-vote threshold.
But those Republican votes are contingent upon having a full Senate floor debate on the defense bill for as long as two weeks, a setting where even a few recalcitrant Republican senators can create days of delaying mischief. To schedule a vote before time runs out, the process really needs to start next week.
First, though, senators need to have in hand the Pentagon report on the impact of repeal.Those familiar with the report say it will show that the effect would be minimal, and that most service members have no problem with gay and lesbian colleagues serving openly. The Pentagon has been working on this for months, and even though the conclusions will no longer be a surprise, the impact of the report will carry a great deal of weight.
Getting the report on Tuesday means that the Senate Armed Services Committee might be able to begin hearings on the issue next week. It also sends a message from the military to Congress that justice is a matter that cannot wait.