Just a few weeks ago, Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats seemed content to ignore the gay community. When Barack Obama’s DoJ began to sound much like George Bush’s, even Barney Frank told the gay community to shut up and like it. But it seems that Democrat leaders are afraid to lose an important source of campaign donations. So according to Roll Call, legislation to appease this constituency is back on the table. It’s unclear whether it will be partial repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (to allow benefits for partners), employment non-discrimination, an end to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – or some combination of the above:
Frank this week introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which provides workplace protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. The bill passed the House last year — without the transgender provision — but failed to advance in the Senate. This time around, Frank said, the bill has the votes to pass the House with the transgender protections and with the support of five Republicans…
Leaders may try to package workplace discrimination and federal health benefits together into one bill, according to one source who attended the leadership meeting. The source said that Pelosi is fine with that plan, and others want to do it as well but “they are always worried about people taking votes, whether we have enough…”
In addition to the Speaker’s under-the-Dome meeting, lawmakers have been stepping up efforts to advance bills affecting the gay community. In addition to Frank’s ENDA, Baldwin introduced legislation Wednesday to address health needs specific to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Other Democratic lawmakers have reached out to Obama to act first on certain fronts. On Monday, 77 House Members — including one Republican — sent a letter to the president urging him to use his authority to prevent military officials from enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Polis said he planned to engage Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the original sponsor of the 1993 policy, on the issue during Wednesday’s debate on the defense authorization bill.
Where does this fit into the crowded Democrat agenda? Congress has to consider a Supreme Court nomination, Cap-and-Tax, health care reform, and potentially immigration reform and Card Check. It’s hard to imagine all those bills can get action this year. And with many first-term Democrats sitting in GOP-leaning seats, that’s a lot of tough votes.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Members of Congress are writing to Obama to ask him to stop enforcing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It’s much easier for them to ask the White House not to enforce it – which would probably be illegal – than it is to repeal the policy. This is a case of 77 Members of Congress passing the buck when they could instead cast a brave vote. Are they willing to put their money where their mouths are if the bill comes to the floor?
Lastly, by suddenly putting immigration reform and gay rights legislation back on the agenda, Democrat leaders are setting a precedent that may come back to haunt them: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There are plenty of Democrat activists who may decide it’s time for their pet issues to be addressed.