Sunday, December 19, 2010

DADT Repealed! An Updated Look at the Oppress-O-Meter

So yesterday was a little weird. Don't Ask Don't Tell, the much derided military policy banning gays from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces, was repealed by the Senate. Hooray! Soon it will be off the books forever. This is an amazing development, as it seemed like a dead issue only a few days ago. To briefly recap, the legislation ending the ban on gays had previously been included in a larger Pentagon policy bill, and Republicans refused to let the whole bill go forward, like they've refused every bill to go forward, because they'd rather point to how the country is falling apart under Obama than work to improve things. Or if you want to be charitable, because they thought dealing with taxes and spending was so important they couldn't deal with anything first, even if it was ready to be brought forward. Repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell had its Republican backers, but they refused to join in cutting off a filibuster against the larger Pentagon bill. So all looked lost.

Then, in an odd twist, occasional throwers-of-the-monkey-wrench Senators Joe Lieberman (Independent "Democrat") and Senator Susan Collins of Maine ("Moderate" Republican), had Dem leaders in the House of Reps pass a measure earlier in this week that was a stand alone repeal of the ban. So outgoing House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Rep. Patrick Murphy (aka Congressman Awesome) did and it passed the House. Then Lieberman and Collins introduced the same bill in the Senate, and when it came up for cloture they had the 60 votes to end the filibuster and then it passed the Senate. It's a huge huge step in the right direction for equal rights and it's really exciting. It's a fulfilled promise by President Obama to have the ban repealed through legislation, and it's a career accomplishment for Patrick "Congressman Awesome" Murphy, a veteran of the Iraq War who worked tirelessly to see this bill get through the House (he actually got it through twice. Bravo.) Murphy lost his re-election bid this November, but it must be hugely satisfying to him that he got the job done on his watch. It's hugely satisfying to me.

You may ask, "If this is so satisfying, O, why are you not super happy?" Well, it goes like this: Even though the Senate did the right thing on this issue they are still acting like total douche bags on several other issues. And in one instance where the Senate actually got things right, The House then decided to go nutso.

We'll begin with the Senate, a body where the minority party has decided we no longer need to do any business by a simple majority. Any motion that does not have a super majority of 60 will get filibustered. This means even though the majority would vote to pass things. it's not allowed to get that far.

This is the case for the DREAM Act, that would create a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children and who then went on and completed additional requirements including attending college or serving in the military for at least two years, and passing criminal background checks. Only 55 Senators voted for it, so it doesn't go any further.

This is ALSO the case with the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act, which failed to advance past a procedural vote in the Senate on Dec. 9th, on the grounds that Republicans didn't like how it was paid for and again because they refused to allow votes on anything until taxes were addressed. Not allowing this vote before the end of the year is just disgusting. Republican Senators invoke 9/11 all the time, but they don't want to help the ailing first responders? They dump billions and billions into foreign wars but get nitpicky about money when it comes to aiding sick heroes? It infuriates me. Hopefully, renewed pressure from Jon Stewart and other members of the media, the Senate Republicans will be embarrassed into allowing an up or down vote.

Beyond that, there is also START, the Nuclear Arms Treaty with Russia, which Republicans in the Senate may also try to scuttle for bizarre logic. They claim the treaty would limit development of U.S. offensive and defensive missile systems, despite everyone telling them that's not the case. They also aren't keen on cutting atomic weapons and don't like Obama's goal of eliminating all nukes. The START treaty would commit Russia and the United States to cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 for each side within seven years. 1,550 nuclear weapons aren't enough to blow up the entire planet? We have 1,551 strategic targets to aim at?

President Obama, along with our military leaders and a horde of Republicans who were former administration officials, have been arguing that it's crucial to have the new treaty so inspections of Russia's nuclear facilities can resume. The old START treaty expired a year ago. And even though nine Republicans voted with Democrats to at least allow debate on the treaty, it's hardly a lock that all of them will vote to support its passage, which needs 67 votes to pass the Senate since it's a treaty. So that may or may not happen. Scary.

And if all THAT wasn't enough, the House decided to lose its collective mind and killed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010. The bill would have recognized child marriage as a human rights violation, and developed comprehensive strategies to prevent those marriages around the world. The legislation had strong bipartisan support in the Senate, but was voted down in the House by Republicans who said the bill is too costly and could lead to increased abortions??? The bill had nothing to do with abortions. It's an argument with no basis in reality. But when has that stopped them from using that kind or argument before?

So just to recap where we currently stand on the oppress-o-meter:

Gays are (increasingly) okay. But still not quite equal citizens

Below them:

First Responders, who may or may not ever get a dignified response

Below them:

Immigrants, again with a DREAM deferred.

Below them:

Child Brides. So so sad.

We applaud progress when it comes. But one good vote in the face of four potential terrible ones over the course of the week does not work out to a good percentage. Our elected officials need to wake up and and allow votes on bills that protect us and improve our standard of living. These should be no-brainers. We must demand our officials stop with the partisan bullshit and get this stuff done NOW. I'm not asking you to do it, Senate. I'm telling.

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