Senate Republicans today filibustered the annual defense authorization bill, balking at its proposed repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Sen. John McCain led the charge, railing against his Democratic colleagues for moving to repeal the policy before the military completed a study of how this decision would affect troop morale and unit cohesion. He cited opposition from the chiefs of the four military branches, who want to wait until the review is completed before considering changing the policy. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, however, has come out in favor of a repeal, as has Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was the center of attention, the authorization bill also included a slew of other measures that keep the military running on a day-to-day basis. If the Senate does not manage to pass the authorization bill this year, it will be the first time Congress has let it slide in 48 years. In this event, lawmakers would pass a continuing resolution that would fund the military on existing levels.
Most likely, however, the Senate will take up the bill again after midterm elections. Majority Leader Harry Reid changed his vote to no at the last minute, once it was apparent that Democrats would not achieve cloture, in order to allow him to bring the bill up again later this session. Were the Senate to consider it during a lame-duck session, after midterm tensions have defused a bit, it's possible some senators would be more open to compromise.
Today's vote was 56-43 for cloture, short of the 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote. In addition to Reid's last-minute switch for procedural reasons, Democrats lost votes from Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. While Dems had entertained hopes of luring in Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both senators objected to limitations on Republican amendments and voted against cloture.
One Democratic amendment that sparked particular animosity among Republicans was the DREAM Act, an immigration measure that would provide a pathway to legal residency for the children of illegal immigrants. McCain slammed it for being non-germane -- though Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, slammed McCain right back for amending his own non-germane measures, including campaign finance reform, to previous defense authorization bills. Senate Republicans saw Reid's addition of the DREAM Act as a play for Hispanic votes in upcoming elections in Western and border states (such as Nevada, Reid's personal battleground).
In a press conference this afternoon, Levin shot down suggestions that today's vote doomed the DREAM amendment. It will remain on the table, he said, as he and his Democratic colleagues seek to get the authorization bill passed this year.