'Don't Ask Don't Tell, DREAM Act in the Senate

It's a big day in the U.S. Senate for two issues we watch, but it's kind of a win-win for conservatives on both of them, regardless of how the pending votes on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and the 'Dream Act' go down.

The bigger of the day is a cloture vote on the military spending bill, which has a kind-of, not-really, sort-of repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell' amendment built into it. Usually Democrats and Republicans alike are so terrified of voting against the annual National Defense Authorization Act they'd never think of voting "against the troops" (or against lobbying military contractors).

Republicans screwed up their courage to make an exception and are expected to filibuster such a vote today, just so that they can keep Don't Ask Don't Tell from being repealed.

But the Democrats are making it clear that the amendment to repeal the policy won't, in fact, repeal anything. The Department of Defense is already studying the repeal (which includes a dubious survey on how soldiers feel about serving with the gays) and the current bill will not allow Don't Ask Don't Tell to be changed unless all parties agree the study says repeal is for best (even though the law has already been ruled unconstitutional).

"No change can take place until the President [and] the Secretary of Defense -- consider the review, in a manner consistent with military readiness," pleaded Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He basically begged people to vote for the repeal, because it's not going to do anything:

"There's not going to be a change in policy unless and until there is a certification that the changes in policy, from the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the Secretary of Defense -- which they are going to to presumably provide, will not undermine the morale, the recruiting, the retention of the United States. Our bill specifically says there will be no change in policy unless that certification comes."

So if the bill is filibustered, the Republicans win. And if the Democrats pass this 'repeal,' the Republicans still win, for nothing will change until the study is done. If you read the survey, it's not hard to imagine how it will make the case that retention or morale are hurt by the gays.

Also up for a vote today is the DREAM Act, which New Yorkers have lobbied Senators Gillibrand and Schumer to support. Allowing young people who are illegal immigrants but have grown up in the United States to become citizens by going to college or joining the military would be a win for immigrant advocates, no doubt. But it's far from comprehensive reform, and has splintered groups who don't want to see the young and college educated put in front of the 12 million total who are clamoring for some kind of legal status. Many of them fear that passing the Dream Act will not begin comprehensive immigration reform, but will in fact give cover as an excuse not to push for it.

Both of New York's Senators' offices say they will be voting for the Dream Act and to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. Harry Reid has committed to bringing the military policy to the floor even without the votes to win, but a congressional staff source tells us Republican Susan Collins of Maine is not going to vote for the Dream Act, making it unlikely the Dream Act will even come up for a vote.

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