UPDATED: Senate Committee and House approve compromise on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 today to pass a compromise that will probably lead to repeal of the prohibition on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote for the compromise. Jim Webb of Virginia was the only Democrat to vote against it. I wouldn't have predicted that Webb would vote no when people like Evan Bayh, Robert Byrd and Ben Nelson voted yes.

This bill appears to have the votes to pass on the Senate floor. Representative Patrick Murphy is offering a comparable amendment to the Defense Authorization bill in the House. Technically, it's not correct to call this a "repeal" of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell, because the legislation allows officials at the White House, Pentagon and Joint Chiefs to leave the policy in place.

Here's what will happen if the amendment makes it into the final bill passed by the House and Senate:

When the President signs the Department of Defense Authorization bill into law, DADT will not instantly be repealed. Repeal would take place only after the study group completes its work in December 2010 and after the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense all certify that repeal will not hurt military readiness or unit cohesion.

So, gay and lesbian soldiers will continue to be discharged several months (and perhaps several years) from now. Still, I agree with Adam Bink; this has to be viewed as a "giant step" toward taking Don't Ask, Don't Tell off the books. Ideally, Congress would have passed stronger legislation, but I'd rather have them pass this deal now than shoot for something better next year. If Republicans took control of the House or Senate, we'd have no hope of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell for a long time.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: The House passed Murphy's amendment 234 to 194, with 26 Democrats voting no and five Republicans voting yes. The five Republicans who broke party ranks were Charles Djou (HI-01), Joseph Cao (LA-02), Judy Biggert (IL-13), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18) and Ron Paul (TX-14). I don't have the list yet of the Democrats who voted no.

UPDATE: Here is the House roll call. I'm pleased to see that my Blue Dog Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03), a Vietnam veteran, voted yes.

Financial reform update

These thirteen senators have been named to the conference committee that will reconcile differences between the financial reform bills approved by the House last December and the Senate last week. They include eight Democrats and five Republicans, eight members of the Banking Committee and five from the Agriculture Committee. The House will also have 13 representatives on the conference committee; House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank has recommended these eight Democrats, but I haven't seen a list of the five Republican members yet.

On the key differences between the House and Senate versions of financial regulations, see Pat Garofalo's Wonk Room chart and this post by David Dayen. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who is one of the conferees, promised yesterday to

“do everything in my power to preserve the bill’s integrity, strengthen its consumer protections, and stop the reckless financial wheeling and dealing that destabilized our economy and threw millions of Americans out of work. And, given the dangers they pose if not properly regulated, I plan to focus on preserving the key reforms in the Senate-passed derivatives portion of the bill. The Restoring American Financial Stability Act is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to improving it in conference.”

Harkin has his work cut out for him if he wants to preserve the Senate language on derivatives. Dayen wrote last week,

Everyone expects the 716 provision, which forces the mega-banks to spin off their swaps trading desks, to be excised in conference. But Michael Greenberger believes something like it will be retained. The House’s derivatives piece is a mess and nearly useless, but [conference committee chairman] Barney Frank has admitted a mistake on that front, and wants to preserve strong rules against derivatives, like in the Senate bill.

The smart money is on the conference committee dropping the strong derivatives language after the Arkansas Democratic primary runoff election on June 8. Until then, corporate hack Senator Blanche Lincoln needs to be able to brag about standing up to Wall Street lobbyists.

Another important battle in the conference committee relates to auto loans. On Monday the Senate passed a non-binding instruction to the conference committee supporting "a special exemption to shield automobile dealers from the oversight of a new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection." The House bill already contains that exemption. All Republicans present and about half the Senate Democrats were among the 60 votes for limiting the oversight of the new consumer protection unit, while only 30 senators voted against that instruction (roll call here). Of the 13 senators named to the conference committee, six voted against the instruction on automobile dealers, four voted for it, and three did not vote on Monday.

According to the White House blog,

The President has been clear on this issue, repeatedly urging members of the Senate to fight efforts of the special interests and their lobbyists to weaken consumer protections. The fact is, auto dealer-lending is an $850 billion industry, which is larger than the entire credit card industry and they make nearly 80 percent of the automobile loans in our country.

Is there any question that these lenders should be subject to the same standards as any local or community bank that provides loans?

Auto dealer-lenders sell auto loans to working families every single day, and while most dealers are no doubt above board, some cannot resist the bigger profits that come from inflating rates, hiding fees, and tacking on over-priced add-ons.

In this kind of situation, President George W. Bush would make his demands clear and tell members of Congress to send him "a bill I can sign." We'll see how far President Obama is willing to go to keep consumer protection provisions in the Wall Street reform bill.

HI-01: Political malpractice leads to Republican victory

A few quick thoughts on the special election in Hawaii's first Congressional district. Voting ended Saturday evening, and Republican Charles Djou won this D+11 district with 39.4 percent of the vote, because Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case won 30.8 percent and 27.6 percent, respectively.

First, this outcome makes a strong case against the "jungle primary" system for a special election. If some process had been used to select just one Democrat to face Djou, that Democrat would almost certainly have held the seat.

Second, Neil Abercrombie should have declined to run for re-election in 2008 if he was already planning to run for governor this year. We could have elected a new Democrat at that time and avoided this debacle.

Third, the White House and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were wrong to (covertly) get behind Case and try to pressure Hanabusa into dropping out. I don't mind competitive primaries, but this wasn't a primary. Hanabusa got in first and locked up local support. Case, who is too conservative for a D+11 district anyway, got in late and split the vote. The DCCC supposedly had polling that showed Case doing better than Hannabusa against Djou, but she had support from most local activists, Hawaii's two senators, and labor unions.

Republicans are crowing about picking up a House seat in a district Barack Obama won with 70 percent of the vote, but Djou will face only one Democrat in November. Tim Sahd reported for Hotline On Call, "GOPers had hoped Djou would cross the 40% threshold tonight, thus proving he had a path to victory in the fall." It appears that Hanabusa's relatively strong performance in the special gives her the edge going into the September 18 Democratic primary, but that's a long way off.

Some Republicans are claiming that Djou will hold the seat because Hawaii loves to re-elect incumbents, but Djou is only the 12th federal office-holder Hawaii has ever had, and most federal elections have not been competitive.

Final thought: I didn't realize until I checked the Hawaii Office of Elections website on Saturday that ballots and other election materials are available in four languages there. Can you guess which ones before clicking over?

Share any thoughts about the Hawaii race or its implications in this thread.

UPDATE: Nate Silver's take on this special election is worth a read.

Defense authorization bill blocks moving Gitmo detainees to U.S.

In December, the Obama administration signaled its intention to move some federal prisoners as well as detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois.

However, on May 19 the House Armed Services Committee "unanimously approved a defense bill for 2011 that bans spending money to build or modify any facility inside the United States to house Guantánamo detainees," the New York Times reported. These are the 61 members of the House Armed Services Committee. I don't know who was absent from Wednesday's meeting, where the defense authorization bill passed by a 59 to 0 vote.

At TalkLeft, Jeralyn posted an excerpt from the bill summary:

The Committee firmly believes that the construction or modification of any facility in the U.S. to detain or imprison individuals currently being held at Guantanamo must be accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility. No such plan has been presented to date. The bill prohibits the use of any funds for this purpose. Additionally, the bill requires the Secretary of Defense to present Congress with a report that adequately justifies any proposal to build or modify such a facility in the future.

Last fall prominent Iowa Republicans fanned fears about terrorists in the heartland as a political weapon against President Obama and Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01), who represents the Iowa counties closest to Thomson, Illinois. At the time, Braley expressed support for the plan to convert the Illinois facility, saying his constituents "have told me with a resounding voice they want these jobs to come to their area." But presumably many Democrats on the Armed Services Committee didn't want to deal with the politics of this issue during an election year.

The federal government still plans to purchase and renovate the Thomson Correctional Center to use for federal prisoners, with or without detainees from Guantanamo.

Financial reform clears Senate, heads to conference

The U.S. Senate passed the Wall Street reform bill today by a 59 to 39 vote (roll call here). The vote was mostly along party lines, but Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Maria Cantwell or Washington voted no, while Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Chuck Grassley of Iowa voted yes. Earlier today, a cloture motion to end debate on the bill passed 60 to 40. Only three Republicans voted for the cloture motion (Snowe, Collins and Brown). In other words, Grassley voted against letting the bill advance before he voted for it.

Grassley typically wouldn't be the only conservative Republican voting with a handful of New England moderates. Like Howie Klein, I wonder whether Grassley was concerned about this bill becoming an election issue. Democrat Roxanne Conlin's campaign blasted Grassley yesterday for joining the Republican filibuster of the bill.

The financial reform now goes to a formal conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions. Annie Lowrey discussed that process and some of the contentious issues here. I'm not hopeful about the final product.

Lots of amendments to more strongly regulate the financial industry bill didn't get a vote in the Senate, including Tom Harkin of Iowa's proposed limit on ATM fees. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Carl Levin of Michigan were unable to get a vote on their amendment to reinstate the "Volcker rule" (banning proprietary trading by banks). There was a small silver lining in that opposition to Merkley-Levin scuttled a horrible idea. Earlier this week Merkley and Levin attached their amendment to a terrible Republican amendment, which would "[exempt] auto dealers from new consumer protection laws, even though auto loans are the biggest instances of financial malfeasance against consumers, especially military personnel." Today Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas withdrew his auto dealer amendment in order to prevent Merkley-Levin from getting a vote.


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