The House and Senate had passed different versions of the bill authorizing fiscal year 2010 funds for the Defense Department and national security programs. When the two Houses of Congress pass different versions of the same bill, a final version is typically negotiated in a conference between a limited number of members of both bodies, and a conference report is developed. That report then must be passed by both Houses before it is sent to the president to be signed into law. This was a vote on the resolution or “rule’ setting the terms for the House debate of the conference report on the 2010 Defense Department funding bill. The rule waived points of order that could ordinarily be made against the bill.
The final version of the bill developed by the House-Senate conference included a provision, unrelated to defense matters, which designated a crime motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation for special “hate crime” treatment. That provision had been in the Senate version of the bill, but not in the House version. The provision was very controversial.
Rep. Slaughter (D-NY), was leading the effort on behalf of the rule setting the terms for debate of the bill. She confined her remarks to the provisions of the bill dealing with defense and national security matters. Regarding the ongoing issue of improper practices by defense contractors, Slaughter noted that the bill “improves accountability and oversight in awarding defense contracts (and) . . . prohibits a company from being awarded future contracts if its action leads to a service member's death or severe injury.”
Regarding the issue of the treatment of enemy combatant detainees, which was also controversial, she noted that the bill “bans interrogation of detainees by contractors and requires the Department of Defense to give the International Committee of the Red Cross prompt access to detainees held . . . in Afghanistan. In addition, the bill reforms the Military Commissions Act to clarify rules and improve trial procedures to make military commissions fair and effective, and puts new revisions into place that would forbid the use of statements alleged to have been secured through cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Finally, the bill provides the accused with the enhanced ability to select his own counsel . . . .”
Rep. Blunt (R-MO), a member of the House Republican leadership, opposed including the hate crime provision in the Defense Department funding bill, and therefore also opposed the rule. Referring to the hate crime provision, he said “for the first time that I am aware of . . . the defense authorization bill (has) become a vehicle where other social legislation is finalized, where the country's laws are changed . . . And even if it was something that I was for, I don't think this rule should move forward in a way that changes the (hate crimes) law . . . .”
Rep. Carter (R-TX) also opposed the hate crime provision and the rule. He argued: “(T)o use this bill in this way is a step in the wrong direction, and I am afraid it's the first step . . . where every bill to defend the country . . . will become a vehicle for other social legislation that has nothing to do (with defense). He added that the debate on the hate crimes issue “should be resolved independent of this legislation.” Carter further argued that “those who support hate crimes (sic) should have the courage to come out from underneath the cover of the United States serviceman . . . .”
The resolution passed by a vote of 234-188. Two hundred and thirty-three Democrats and one Republican voted “aye”. One hundred and seventy-four Republicans and fourteen Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the House approved the rule and was able to debate the final version of the bill authorizing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Department of Defense, which included the new hate crimes language.