This vote was on whether to begin debate on a bill that would authorize $725.7 billion in fiscal 2011 for Defense Department programs. It also would repeal the policy enacted during President Bill Clinton’s administration known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which bars openly gay people from serving in the United States military, but which also bars the military from attempting to force service members to reveal their sexual orientation.
Typically bills are brought to the floor through a procedural motion called a “motion to proceed,” which is usually approved by voice vote as a routine matter. However, if a senator wants to hold up consideration, all he has to do is remove his consent – which was the case with this bill. Instead, the Democratic leadership called a vote on beginning debate on the bill, which is what this vote was on.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill, which is the annual bill by which Congress authorizes Defense Department programs, is important and should not be delayed. “This bill is routinely taken up every year. I want to emphasize again, we are at the first step. This is just a motion to go forward to begin to debate the bill. I would hope we could at least summon sufficient votes to agree to talk about these critical issues,” Reid said. “There are some controversial provisions and proposals. One is don’t ask, don’t tell. First, the minority or anyone has the right to move an amendment to take out or change provisions with respect to don’t ask, don’t tell. I would disagree with that and oppose that, but that is something that can and will happen and will engender a very strong, positive debate,” Reid said. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he is opposed to bringing up the bill at this time because the military is in the middle of taking a survey of service members about whether the policy should be repealed.
“Give them a chance to tell us their views. Whether you agree or disagree with the policy, whether you want to keep it or repeal it, the Senate should not be forced to make this decision now before we have heard from our troops. We have asked for their views, and we should wait to hear from them. All four service chiefs have said the same thing: Let’s conduct the survey, let’s get it done and then act on whether to repeal or not repeal,” McCain said.
Beyond the hot-button issue of whether openly-gay people should be able to serve in the U.S. military, the bill also was caught up in immigration politics. One of the amendments Democrats had wanted to offer to the bill would have added language to enable the children of illegal immigrants to gain conditional legal status and a path to citizenship by going to college or serving in the military for two years.
By a vote of 56-43, the motion to begin debating the bill failed. Though more voted yes than no, this particular vote required 60 votes in order to be considered approved. All but three Democrats present voted to begin debating the bill. Every Republican present voted against beginning debate on the bill. The end result is that the Senate failed to gain enough support for opening debate on a bill that would provide funding for Defense Department programs in fiscal 2011 and repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy. As a result, the bill was considered dead until after the 2010 midterm elections are over at the earliest.