In my first diary by this title, I provided a brief history of the recent legislative and administration moves to repeal Don't Ask Don't tell, including a run-down of the co-sponsors of the Senate repeal bill and which other Senators are or might be for it.
In this second part, I look more closely at the House bill, the committees that have to deal with it and the implications thereof. It ain't pretty.
The House bill, H.R. 1283, is currently assigned to Representative Susan Davis' subcommittee, the Military Personel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. This subcommittee has nine Democrats and six Republicans. The ranking Republican is, and I am not making this up, Joe Wilson (of 'You lie!' fame). (One of the Democratic members is Madeleine Bordallo, a non-voting representative from Guam -- but non-voting representatives do get committee and subcommittee votes).
The Military Personel Subcommittee held its first hearing on the bill on March 3rd. Davis' opening statement is here and other information about the hearing can be found here. Since then, nothing has happened with the bill. I called Davis' office and was told by one of Representative Davis' staffers that additional hearings are planned, but not scheduled.
Every single Democratic member of this subcommittee is a co-sponsor of the House bill, so passing it through the subcommittee should be smooth sailing, right? Yes, but that isn't where the problem lies, as I was told by the same staffer. The problem lies with the full House Armed Services Committee, whice has 60 members, 35 Democrats and 25 Republicans. The Committee is chaired by Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, who is not in favor or repeal. Oops.
Besides not having the chairman on board, of the 35 Democratic members of the full committee, 14 of them (including Skelton) are not sponsors of the repeal bill. And I could find no Republicans on the committee who were sponsors (though I did not do an exhaustive check). That means there are a likely 21 votes for repeal (the co-sponsors) plus an unknown, but probably small, number of other potential 'ayes' among the remaining Democrats -- and who knows if even a single Republican would vote to repeal. Thirty-one votes would presumably be needed to get the bill out of committee, or at least a majority of those present when the vote was taken.
And the staffer asserted to me, there is no way this is going to happen. The bill is not going to emerge from the Armed Services Committee. If it is to be passed in the House, it must be passed by another route. How could that be done?
The most attractive option, or at least the one the staffer seemed to favor, is inserting the repeal language into the upcoming Defense Appropriations bill directly (or perhaps some other bill). No one wants to vote against funds for the military, so if it were part of the final bill that was being voted on, that would likely insure repeal. (This begs the question, which unfortunately I did not ask, of whether the Defense Appropriations bill has to go through the House Armed Services Committee. Presumably it does, and so it's not clear at all why this would be a more promising approach.)
A related approach would be to attempt to offer repeal as an amendment to the appropriations bill (or some other bill), and have a floor vote on the amendment. According to Adam Bink on Open Left,
Tammy Baldwin says she's counted and the votes are there in the House.
Right now there are 192 sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, but at least one, Eric Massa, is no longer in the House, and three are non-voting members (Norton (DC), Bordallo (Guam), Pierluisi (PR)). On the other hand, Speaker Pelosi is not one of the sponsors, and surely she is a vote in favor, and also likely Hoyer (see below), leaving repeal with one would hope at least 190 votes and 26 to go to reach the current threshold of 216. (There are also four special elections coming up, three formerly Democratic seats and one Republican seat, IIRC, which may increase the yeas but will certainly increase the required majority threshold).
A final approach for the House would be to have a bill (again, presumably the defense bill) be passed in the House without the repeal language, but come back from the Senate with the repeal language and be resolved in conference, presumably in favor of repeal, and then finally voted on by the entire House. Unfortunately, if you've read my Part I, you'll have noted that the whip count in the Senate appears much less favorable percentage-wise than that in the House. Unless there's some kind of push from Obama it looks like the Senate will be even happier than the House to let the repeal issue linger until Secretary Gates issues his report in December (or later, if the report is delayed).
Now, it seems perfectly plausible that Representative Baldwin is right -- that the votes are there in the House. But we've heard this story many times, and it has not always turned out to be true. Governor Patterson claimed many times the votes were their for equal marriage rights in the New York State Senate. The bill failed miserably. And Tom Harkin claimed there would definitely be a public option in the passed Senate health care bill, that the votes were there. Oops.
Even if the votes are there, getting to an actual vote on repeal is going to be diffcult. Since it's not going to come out of the Armed Services Committee, the House Leadership is going to have to be willing to bypass that committee in some fashion, probably insulting Skelton, and doing it likewise without what appears to be any impetus from the White House.
After all the votes the House has taken that the Senate has done nothing about, Pelosi is undoubtedly very wary of yet another controversial bill that could be left to die in the Senate. And the House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, while seeming to be in favor or repeal, doesn't seem willing to push it. I found this tidbit:
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer favors repeal but seems happy to let the Pentagon take the lead until after this year's election. "What I want members to do in their districts? I want them to focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility. Those are our messages," the Maryland Democrat told reporters. "The American public clearly wants us focused on growing the economy, adding jobs. That is a principle responsibility."
Getting repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell passed by the House, even if it was stalled in the Senate, would be a major victory, if only symbolic. And it looks like there's a good chance that an up-or-down vote in the House would stand a chance. But for certain no one in the leadership is going to risk a vote unless they know the votes are there. While Baldwin may say the votes are there, until I see 216 voting Representatives as either co-sponsors or on-the-record supporters, I'm not going to get any hopes up.
If anyone has information about any Representative who is not a co-sponsor but does support repeal and would vote for HR 1283,I'd love to keep a tally to see how close to 216 we actually are.
What's the conclusion? This ain't going be easy. And without some serious pressure from the 'grassroots' on members of Congress it just isn't going to happen this year, and possibly not for many years to come if November comes and the Republicans gain a lot of seats in Congress and/or take control of one or both houses.
Stay tuned for Part III, likely covering recent events, any updates on Congressional action, and what could be done to put more pressure on Congress.