Momentum appeared to be building behind the defense authorization bill Thursday, and Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin made a final plea on the floor to ensure action on the legislation and its repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" before the end of the year.
"We've enacted a national defense authorization act every year for the last 48 years, and we need to do the same this year," the Michigan Democrat said.
The Senate is poised to take up a procedural motion to move to the defense bill Thursday, and it remained unclear whether Democrats had the 60 votes necessary to bring the measure to the floor.
Levin noted that the measure includes pay raises and benefits for soldiers in addition to a repeal of the military's policy banning gays from openly serving. The Democratic priority has been stymied since September, when a procedural vote to move to the defense measure containing the repeal language was blocked by all Republicans and two Democrats. Both of those Democrats, Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, have since said they would support a procedural motion to move the defense bill to the floor.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said Wednesday during an interview on CNN that he would support bringing up the defense bill, although he did not say how he would vote on final passage. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) announced Wednesday that she is in favor of repealing "don't ask, don't tell," but said she wanted to be sure that Republicans would have sufficient time to offer amendments to the bill.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the most vocal GOP supporter of repealing DADT, has been negotiating a time agreement to debate the defense bill with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) since last week. The talks appeared to hit a block Wednesday night, when Collins charged that Reid was seeking to limit debate as part of a year-end legislative rush. Reid offered Collins a deal to consider 15 amendments on the floor if the Senate moves to the defense bill, with 10 of those slated for Republican Members.
Democratic sources further said Reid had not ruled out an open amendment process, and that he continues working with Collins to try to strike an agreement. Reid is angling to adjourn the Senate by Dec. 17. The Senate must also consider an extension of Bush-era tax cuts and a continuing resolution or omnibus measure to keep the government funded next year.