This vote was on bringing debate to a close (known as "invoking cloture") on a conference report on a bill that would authorize funding for Defense Department programs in fiscal 2010, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A conference report represents the text of a deal reached between the House and Senate when each chamber passes a different version of the same bill.
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of senators.
Filing cloture was necessary in part because the measure includes language that would expand federal hate crimes law to cover gender identity and sexual orientation. Republicans opposed its inclusion, suggesting they took particular offense that it was included in a bill that authorizes funding for soldiers. In the past conservatives have opposed hate crimes laws because they say it places a higher value on some lives than others. Some Democrats, particularly those who represent Midwestern and Southern states, also have opposed expanding hate crimes law to cover sexual identity.
Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the House has already passed the conference report, including language to extend hate crimes laws to sexual orientation.
“This legislation is intended to help deter people from being targeted for violent attacks because of race, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation, among other aspects. The Senate adopted the hate crimes legislation when we adopted the Defense Authorization Act, and it was kept in conference. The House of Representatives has now adopted the conference report, and so it is now hopefully going to be before us after a cloture vote,” Levin said.
Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., lamented that the hate crimes language had been included on the defense bill, remarking that it is often difficult to vote against such a bill even if it contains items a lawmaker might disagree with.
“The inclusion of the controversial language of the hate crimes legislation, which is unrelated to our national defense, is deeply troubling. I think we will be setting a dangerous precedent by including such extraneous legislation on a most important authorization bill the body passes every year,” Sessions said.
By a vote of 64-35, the motion to invoke cloture carried. All but one Democrat present voted for bringing debate to a close. All but five Republicans present voted against bringing debate to a close. The end result is that debate was brought to a close on the conference report on a bill that authorizes Defense Department programs in fiscal 2010 and expands federal hate crimes laws to include sexual identity, and the Senate moved to a vote on passing the conference report (see vote 327).