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March 13, 2009

Bill to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is introduced

Top Democrats say it isn’t a priority

Washington, D.C.--A California congresswoman introduced her bill on March 2 to repeal the military ban on openly gay and lesbian personnel.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s legislation is the third time the bill has been before Congress.

Known as the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009, it is essentially the same as earlier versions first introduced in 2005 by Massachusetts Rep. Marty Meehan.

Tauscher picked up sponsorship of the measure last year when Meehan left Congress.

The current bill has 128 co-sponsors including Ohioans Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland, Betty Sutton of Akron, and Mary Jo Kilroy of Columbus.

Sponsors also include openly gay and lesbian Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Jared Polis of Colorado.

The Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee held the first hearing on “don’t ask don’t tell” last August.

Polls show overwhelming support for repealing the policy, some as high as three quarters of Americans. President Barack Obama promised to repeal the law during his campaign.

Yet, the bill’s future remains uncertain.

Pundits say it is risky for Obama to champion it, as it will likely strengthen his political opponents and social conservatives as well as strain his relationship with the military.

Still, it may be possible to fold the language into the Pentagon’s 2010 authorization, which will be considered next month.

In a March 3 breakfast meeting with progressive bloggers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tauscher’s bill would come up “when we have the votes,” but gave no timeline as to when that might be.

Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin of Michigan told National Public Radio on February 24, “I’m gonna be working with colleagues to see how much support there is for it, and where along the process we can take that issue up. I just don’t think we can give that a high priority, given the situation that we face.”

Another barrier is House Armed Services Committee chair Ike Skelton of Missouri, who favors the ban.

There are ways to move bills around an opposing committee chair, but it requires the insistence of the House speaker and majority leader. It is seldom done.

In August, Skelton was asked by the Gay People’s Chronicle if he would block the repeal bill.

In a written statement through his press secretary Lara Battles, Skelton said, “The reassessment of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ will require a number of hearings over an extended period . . . Should a political consensus for action emerge after the reassessment is complete, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee will respond to the interests of the committee members.”

Skelton was also asked for a statement explaining his support of “don’t ask.”

“Chairman Skelton has no further statement at this time,” was the reply.

Tauscher is a member of the Armed Services Committee.

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