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With non-vote on ‘don't ask,' fairness will have to wait

Wednesday, September 22, 2010; A22

THE BEST interests of the country and the national defense were tossed aside Tuesday, victims of partisan wrangling and midterm myopia.

The Senate failed to muster the votes to consider a Defense Department funding bill that included a provision to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that forces gay and lesbian members of the military to serve in secrecy. Repeal of this wrongheaded and counterproductive policy is overdue. Repeal has been championed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Yet gamesmanship on both sides of the aisle all but guaranteed that the quest for justice would have to wait for another day.

Republicans objected to a parliamentary maneuver used by Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to block amendments to the funding bill, calling it an attempt to thwart debate. Lift the prohibition, Republicans argued, and a vote could proceed. Democrats insisted this approach was necessary to prevent Republicans from larding the bill with dozens of amendments -- including some attempting to keep "don't ask, don't tell" intact -- that would make passage impossible in the days remaining in the session.

In the end, both sides may have gotten what they wanted. Democrats can argue in campaign ads and rallies over the next several weeks that Republicans blocked funding for the troops in a spiteful move to prevent fairness in the military. Republicans can just as easily blame Democrats for sabotaging the defense bill by clinging tightly to an extreme liberal agenda. The only losers? Common sense, fairness for gay and lesbian service members and the rational policy of making the best use of all Americans who want to help defend the country.

Some semblance of cooperation still might be restored after the elections. As with so many recent contentious issues, Maine's Republican senators will prove critical. Susan Collins, a repeal supporter, voted against proceeding with the current bill because of Mr. Reid's maneuver. Olympia J. Snowe said she was not prepared to move ahead on the bill until she had read the Pentagon's report on the repeal's likely impact on troop recruitment, readiness and retention, scheduled to be completed by Dec. 1. We hope she and Ms. Collins have a chance to vote then -- and to use their votes to oppose discrimination in the armed services.

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