Perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit on the Congressional calendar with respect to gay rights is re-authorizing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act to include the LGBT community, banning job discrimination for gays, lesbians and transgendered Americans. The bill carrying ENDA in the House has 198 co-sponsors. And Steny Hoyer tells Congressional Quarterly that his chamber expects to move forward on the bill this year.

From CQ: “Hoyer said most lawmakers already are on the record on the issue because the House passed similar legislation in 2007 to bar employment discrimination based on sexual preference. ‘So it’s not like this is a new issue for the members,’ said Hoyer, D-Md.”

The comments are significant as Congress returns to work this week and political observers look for signals from Democratic leadership regarding what type of legislation the Democratic caucus is willing to engage.

While Hoyer was more circumspect about repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, citing the one-year Pentagon study as a reason for potential delay, he was pretty firm on pushing ENDA, which as he says already passed the House once.

Kerry Eleveld sees this as a critical moment for ENDA and DADT, because the House leadership doesn’t really want to deal with anything controversial, especially without a guarantee that the Senate will move on it. They’re “taking the temperature” of the membership on these issues this week. Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank are confident they have the 216 votes needed for ENDA’s passage, so the outcome of the whip count will determine if it comes to the floor.

Swift passage of ENDA in the House gives the bill a shot at life in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s consideration of the Defense Department authorization bill, which is where a DADT repeal measure will either succeed or fail, is likely to be at the end of May.

Bilerico is organizing a call-in on the issue, as clearly this is the vital moment.

It appears that ENDA is alone among the gay equality issues that will come before Congress this year. John Aravosis reports that the Congressional liaison has started to tell House members not to vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell this year or include it in the defense authorization bill. The Pentagon study appears to be succeeding in delaying a reckoning on the policy.