By Lisa Keen
The White House said July 17 that it will veto a defense spending bill that includes funding for additional stealth fighter jets even if that bill also includes the best chance in 12 years for passing a law to help fight hate crimes against gays.
The Senate approved the long-sought Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act by a voice vote on the night of July 16. The measure, however, was approved as an amendment to an annual defense spending bill. While President Barack Obama has long supported the hate crimes legislation, he is adamantly opposing additional funding for the purchase of stealth fighter jets, a program he is trying to eliminate.
White House LGBT press liaison Shin Inouye released a statement Friday, July 17, saying:
“The President has long supported the hate crimes bill and gave his personal commitment to Judy Shepard that we will enact an inclusive bill. Unfortunately, the President will have to veto the Defense Authorization bill if it includes wasteful spending for additional F-22s.” Inouye added that such a veto “would not indicate any change in President Obama’s commitment to seeing the hate crimes bill enacted.”
The Senate is slated to vote on the fighter jet funding provision Monday. Sen. John McCain has introduced an amendment to strip out the money for the jets that he and the Pentagon agree could be better spent.
But many in Congress want to keep spending money on new F-22s because their production employs thousands of people working for hundreds of subcontractors in 44 states.
If the F-22 funding is approved as part of the measure and emerges intact with the House-Senate conference committee’s final version for the president, the president will veto it. Then what?
Brad Luna, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said that once a bill is vetoed, the House-Senate conference committee meets again to come up with a version of the bill to send to the president. That new version must also be approved by both chambers, and Luna said his group is “very confident” the support exists in both chambers to keep the hate crimes measure in the bill.
The hate crimes bill passed as stand-alone legislation in the House in April. And in the Senate Thursday, a roll call vote to force consideration of the hate crimes amendment passed by a 63 to 28 margin.
“There may be some bumps along the way,” said Luna, “but it will get there.”
Luna also pointed out that the statement from the White House noted that the president gave Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy, his “personal commitment” that the hate crimes measure will be enacted.
Only in Washington can the fate of a bill to combat hate crimes be tied to the fate of seven stealth fighter jets. Here’s how this odd couple came to be so entwined: Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Democratically controlled Senate couldn’t get Republican cooperation to consider a stand-alone hate crimes bill. The legislation seeks to add sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to the existing federal hate crimes law. Some Republicans have opposed it as violating the First Amendment right of citizens to express their hatred of gays and others. They warned the law might be used to prosecute religious leaders who espouse disapproval for homosexuality, for instance, before their congregations.
Reid said passing the measure as an amendment to the DOD authorization bill then became the expedient way to gain passage. Republicans – including Sen. McCain – cried foul, saying it was attaching a non-germane issue to a much-needed defense funding bill. But, in fact, it has been a common tactic in the Senate – one used for years by senators such as Jesse Helms to attach all manner of anti-gay amendments to various funding measures.
But this year’s DOD funding bill also includes – at the moment – a provision that President Obama has declared he objects to so vehemently that he will veto the bill if it includes it. That provision is for funding to buy seven new F-22 stealth fighter jets beyond the 187 fighter jets the Pentagon is already committed to buying. Both McCain and the Pentagon agree with Obama that the money is better spent elsewhere.
So, even though the hate crimes amendment passed Thursday night on a voice vote, and even though the President has vowed his support for it, the measure may well arrive on a bill carrying the F-22 provision that the President has vowed to veto.
The hate crimes measure was attached to the DOD authorization bill in 2007, only to be stripped out during a House-Senate conference committee. That same scenario could be building now, especially since many Republicans oppose the hate crimes measure. McCain, the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, derided consideration of the hate crimes amendment this week as jeopardizing “the nation’s security” and “the needs of the men and women who are serving our military.”
But there’s still a possibility the Senate will approve an amendment – brought by McCain – on Monday to strip out the funding for the seven additional F-22s, ending the veto drama. But if it does not do that, gay leaders will be counting on support in the House-Senate conference committee to defend the hate crimes amendment.
By Lisa Keen