The tension in the endgame over the Bush tax cuts is that a resolution would open up the Senate calendar to a couple other victories before the end of the 111th Congress. It’s what Adam Serwer is basically banking on – clearing the ugly compromise on the tax cuts could pave the way to passing an unemployment benefits extension, the new START treaty and a legislative repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. (He also mentions the DREAM Act, but that’s not going to happen – it’ll probably just fail a cloture vote on Wednesday and then fade away.)
The problem with this is that Harry Reid, in setting out the calendar for the rest of the session, probably didn’t give enough time to pass the defense authorization bill to which Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is attached. As a result, passing repeal hangs by the fingernails. Kerry Elveld mentions that Reid had to be prompted by Carl Levin to even mention the defense authorization bill when he laid out the schedule on Saturday.
But as I see it, what Reid said after being prompted by Levin is beside the point. The majority leader laid out the must-gets and they line up perfectly with what the White House has been pushing as its lead lame-duck items for the past couple months: extending the middle class tax cuts and passing START. Press secretary Robert Gibbs has continually pounded these two points home in the White House briefings, rarely mentioning the Defense authorization bill unless responding to a direct question about the policy. And a listing of White House talking points that was distributed to Congressional members after last week’s bipartisan meeting made no mention of the National Defense Authorization Act. But guess what was mentioned? START and taxes.
Republicans are saying that any defense bill would take two weeks to pass, and given that the Senate wants to wrap up by December 17, that’s logistically impossible. Never mind that the House would have to take action on all of these bills as well (except for START, which Dick Lugar says he has the votes for), and that would take more time.
It’s true that a two-week debate on the bill would be unusually long by contemporary standards, but that’s besides the point. Basically all Republicans, even the ones inclined to support the repeal of DADT, have said that they need “ample” time for debate as a condition of their vote. If the Senate tries to ram through the bill, or to get on it without a firm commitment to multiple amendments, those needed votes – like Lugar, Collins and Scott Brown – will dry up.
“Let’s remember that when we first voted on the bill in September there were no limitations on debate or amendments and Republicans still blocked it,” says a Senate Democratic leadership aide. “Now, with another chance to vote on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the GOP is demanding one to two weeks. They know full well that we don’t have that kind of time left on the calendar but it remains their enduring excuse for not voting for a repeal of this law that our senior military officials and a vast majority of Americans want.”
Those who actually want the bill to pass – including folks like Joe Lieberman – want Reid to keep the Senate in session to deal with all the remaining issues. A lot depends on how the tax cut debate plays out. But the trap has certainly been set – delay, delay, delay, and then claim there’s not enough time.
UPDATE: If I didn’t make it clear, the idea that the schedule would doom DADT is basically an excuse, and the result of policies taken months and years ago, particularly to have a Pentagon study get released December 1, necessarily squeezing the time frame. More from AmericaBlog Gay.