The Senate Thursday failed to end the “don't ask don't tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military, potentially dooming the chances that Congress will repeal the policy this year or any time soon.
Senators voted 57-40 to advance the measure, three votes shy of the 60 votes they needed.
The “don't ask” provision is attached to a bill authorizing funding for the Pentagon. A deal was apparently at hand to bring the bill to the floor for debate, but talks collapsed at the last minute, prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to call a vote that was sure to fail.
Reid said the two sides could not agree on what amendments would be allowed or how long debate would run. Reid blamed the Republicans for demanding too much given the limited time Congress has before it adjourns next week.
“There are just not enough days on the calendar to do what the minority is asking,” Reid said.
Because much of the squabbling was over amendments to the defense authorization bill and not the “don't ask” provision, some proponents of repealing the ban believe it could pass if it is offered as a separate measure in the Senate. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said he's considering introducing such a bill.
Republicans who said they might back the repeal, including Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, said they would do so only if the Senate first passes an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.
“This is what happens when the Republican Party decides that reauthorizing everything we do for our military is less important than making sure you get that tax break for everybody's second million,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said.
But there are also many Republicans with serious objections to the repeal, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“This is a political exercise that I think is unworthy of the Senate,” Graham said after the vote.
Reid's decision to bring the measure to the floor surprised Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who had been working with Democrats to pass the measure. In an indication of just how tumultuous relations between Republicans and Democrats have grown, Collins rushed to the Senate floor demanding to know why Reid called for a vote without meeting any of the considerations the two sides were negotiating.
“I am perplexed and frustrated that this important bill is going to become a victim of politics,” Collins said. “We should be able to do better.”