Other activity in Congress on Thursday:
• GAYS IN MILITARY: Senate Republicans dug in their heels Thursday against allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., they clashed with the Pentagon’s top leaders and dimmed Democrats’ hopes of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” this year. In tense exchanges with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McCain and other Republicans dismissed a Pentagon study on gays as biased and said objections by combat troops were being ignored. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised a Senate vote, but Republicans have blocked previous attempts on procedural grounds. Further hurting chances of repeal is an agreement among the Senate GOP not to vote on any bill this month before addressing tax cuts and government spending.
• NEW START TREATY: Once-reluctant Republicans signaled a willingness to back a nuclear treaty with Russia. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said he was “wide open” to supporting the treaty if the Obama administration addressed his concerns about modernization of the remaining U.S. nuclear arsenal. The administration jump-started the treaty with a series of steps this week, including outreach by Vice President Joe Biden to lawmakers and the circulation of a letter from the heads of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories expressing support for Obama’s 10-year, $84 billion plan to maintain the nuclear stockpile. GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Johnny Isakson of Georgia are among those feeling more positive about completing the treaty in the lame-duck session. Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and John Thune, R-S.D., are among those opposed.
• CHILD NUTRITION: More children would eat lunches and dinners at school under legislation passed Thursday by the House and sent to the president. The $4.5 billion bill, approved in a 264-157 vote, would expand a program that provides full meals after school to all 50 states. The Senate passed the legislation in August. The measure is part of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to end childhood hunger and fight childhood obesity.
• DEFICIT COMMISSION: A controversial deficit-cutting proposal that would raise the retirement age and scale back tax deductions appears on track to win support from a majority of the panel – but fall short of the votes needed to adopt it. The plan gained the backing of two of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans on Thursday. The plan is likely to win support from a majority of the 18-member panel in a vote Friday, but still likely to fall short of the 14 votes needed to send it to Congress for consideration. Nonetheless, even opponents such as future House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said it was a credible first step to build upon next year.