The End of DADT and DREAM?

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Two Democratic constituencies are likely to end the day disappointed: Hispanics and gays. This afternoon Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will try and move to the DREAM Act, which would grant a path to citizenship to millions of illegal children who are getting college degrees or serving in the armed forces. After that he will attempt to bring up defense reauthorization legislation, which includes the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Neither will garner the 60 votes needed to start debate.

How can I be so sure? You may recall that all 42 Republicans last week wrote a letter to Reid telling him they will not allow cloture on any legislation aside from Bush tax cuts and a continuing resolution (CR). The Senate finished the CR last week and look well on their way to a deal on taxes but a deal does not legislation make. Republicans are planning to stick to their guns and wait out a Congressional Budget Office score on the tax bill before a vote next week. So what if there’s precious little time before Christmas to get stuff done? So what if, in the meantime, there’s nothing else to do but sit around?

There was talk of one Republican, Maine Senator Susan Collins who had been working closely with Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, who might vote to proceed with the defense reauthorization measure. But, according to Democratic sources, her demands of unlimited debate and amendments on the bill were unreasonable. When he brings it up this afternoon, Reid will offer Republicans 10 amendments to the Democrats’ five and a flexible process. Dems fear a totally open process could allow the Jim DeMints of the world to hijack the process indefinitely. There’s little chance Collins will take the deal and, even if she did, Dems would need at least one more vote in order to reach the 60 votes needed to stave off a filibuster.

Of course, Reid could just wait until the tax bill passes next week and bring these bills up, but that time is reserved for the one remaining item on the lame duck agenda that is looking more and more likely to pass: a ratification of the new START Treaty. So, today’s votes will allow Dems to claim they tried to get DREAM and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell done while blaming their failure on the GOP. In other words, just another day of sock puppet theater on Capitol Hill. Neither measure looks likely to pass under greater Republican majorities next session, so this could be the last action on both these issues for a while.

Of course, five minutes after I hit send on this Lisa Murkowski, the new maverick of the GOP Senate conference (if she ever sorts out her reelection in the courts), put out a press release saying she support repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. “My support for moving the Defense Authorization bill forward, which includes a repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, will depend on whether the majority allows for an open and fair amendment process,” Murkowski wrote. “This is a weighty, policy-laden bill that normally takes several weeks to debate and amend. If the majority attempts to push it through allowing little or no debate or votes on amendments, I will be inclined to oppose those efforts.” So, maybe DADT isn’t dead quite yet.