WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats plan to push key policy objectives, including a repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military and an immigration measure, by linking them to a must-pass defense bill coming before lawmakers this week.
The annual defense authorization bill provides a 1.4 percent pay raise for troops and $725 billion for the Pentagon, including $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democrats have added a provision that would abolish the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and want to add an immigration measure called the DREAM Act, which would provide a route to citizenship for youths who are in the United States illegally.
Both political parties have used the authorization bill in years past to advance other legislative goals, and it would be unusual for the military spending plan to fail. But in the time that remains before Congress adjourns to campaign full time, the process has become heavily politicized.
Republicans are vowing to filibuster the defense bill, charging Democrats with using it to win over voters. “To pursue a social and legislative agenda to galvanize voting blocs, I believe, is reprehensible,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised that the DREAM Act, a long-fought effort, would be the subject of the first amendment to the defense bill. Under that measure, youths who are in the country illegally could become eligible for legal residency after attending college or serving in the military for two years.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, enacted in 1993, has been targeted by President Barack Obama for repeal, and a federal judge in California earlier this month declared it unconstitutional. Under the proposed legislation, repeal would take effect 60 days after completion of a Pentagon report on steps needed to ensure military readiness. The report is due in December.
On the eve of today’s vote to advance the measure, the popular musician Lady Gaga headlined a rally to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” in Maine, whose two Republican senators could be key votes.