The House and Senate had passed different versions of H.R. 2647, 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 legislative bodies before it is sent to the president to be signed into law. This vote was on House passage of the final version, which authorized $550 billion in funding, and allowed for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay that had been announced by President Obama. It also contained a controversial provision, unrelated to defense, that designated a crime motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation as a hate crime.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Skelton (D-MO) was leading support for the legislation. He said:”(T)he vast majority of this bill has bipartisan support” and that it “provides several major victories for our troops and their families, and . . . strikes a right balance between our focus on the immediate fights in Afghanistan and Iraq and the long-term needs of our military.” Skelton urged approval for the bill because “we are at war. We should support the troops. We should support their families. We should make sure that they have the finest equipment and training possible. That's what this bill does.”
Skelton acknowledged that he would have preferred if the hate crimes provision had “been enacted as a stand-alone bill, not on this defense bill”; however, he noted that an amendment incorporating that provision had passed the Senate by “a strong bipartisan vote (and) . . . the Senate conferees insisted on it.” Skelton concluded his remarks by arguing: “(W)hatever one's position on hate crimes, I believe that the enormous good done in this legislation merits its support by every Member of the House.”
Rep. Davis (D-CA) expressed her support for the hate crimes provision. She argued: “(H)ate crimes perpetuate and reinforce historic discrimination and persecution against particular groups. They are committed not simply to harm one particular victim, but to send a message of threat and intimidation to others. Left unchecked, crimes of this kind threaten to unravel the very fabric of American society that our service members fight to protect.”
Rep. McKeon (R-CA), the Ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said that the bill, “(T)hough flawed . . . has my support.” He acknowledged that the hate crimes provision is “anathema to me. I am opposed to hate crimes legislation, and I am especially opposed to the procedure of putting it on a defense bill--especially in time of war, using our troops to get this legislation passed. It's not germane to the work of the committee and needlessly introduces a partisan matter in an otherwise bipartisan bill . . . Unfortunately, congressional Democrats made the political decision to attach the hate crimes legislation to this bill.”
Rep. Bartlett (R-MD), a senior Republican Member of the Armed Services Committee, urged a vote against H.R. 2647, even though he said “this is an excellent conference report.” He based his opposition on the fact that the hate crimes provision was included in the final version. Bartlett said he was “appalled that my colleagues would violate House rules and pervert this annual national military strategy bill by including the totally unrelated partisan (provision) . . . .” Rep. Akin (R-MO) referred to the hate crime provision as “a poison pill . . . (and) we refuse to be blackmailed into voting for a piece of social agenda that has no place in this bill.” Akin added “why don't they pass it somewhere else? Instead, they put it on the backs of our service men and women . . . .”
Rep. Pence (R-IN) also opposed the bill because of the hate crimes provision. He argued that “by expanding the federal definition of hate crimes, as this legislation does, we will generate a chilling effect on religious leaders in this country. Pastors, preachers, rabbis, and imams will now hesitate to speak about the sexual traditions and teachings of their faith for fear of being found culpable under the aiding, abetting, or inducing provisions of current law, and that must not be. It is just simply wrong to use a bill that's designed to support our troops to erode the very freedoms for which they fight.”
The legislation passed by a vote of 281-146. Two hundred and thirty-seven Democrats and forty-four Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and thirty-one Republicans and fifteen Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the House approved and sent on to the Senate the final version of the bill authorizing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Department of Defense and expanding the definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by the sexual orientation of the victim.