by Bob Roehr
A bill to repeal the antigay military policy know as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Ellen Tauscher (D-California) and 112 cosponsors on March 3. She chairs the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
Tauscher spoke the previous day at a forum on repeal held at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Also present were Lawrence J. Korb, the Pentagon’s personnel chief during the Reagan administration, and Nathaniel Frank of the Palm Center at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Tauscher called the U.S. military “a force for social change and upward mobility” throughout its history. “Desegregation in the Army paved the way for racial integration that we see in the military today,” she added.
Likewise, its integration of women into the service both reflected and encouraged parallel changes in the civilian workforce.
“We have a military that is truly the finest in the world, but we must tear down one final, last barrier,” Tauscher said. “We need to end the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.”
Tauscher said DADT was intended to allow gays to serve, and was supposed to be based on conduct, not status. “Well, that didn’t exactly happen,” she said.
Since its signing into law, more than 12,500 qualified men and women have been discharged under the policy, at a cost to the Pentagon of $363 million in the first 10 years alone. That calculation does not include the cost of gays and lesbians who were dissuaded from enlisting or reenlisting because of the policy.
“It is no longer a question of if we will change this law, it is a question of when,” Tauscher said.
Leading proponents of DADT in 1993, such as then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, have changed their mind, and American public opinion has shifted from a 50/50 divide. Now, 75 percent of Americans support allowing gays to serve.
“We have to link all of this together in a way that we can get 218 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate,” Tauscher went on to say. “We have one thing that we have needed for a long time, which is a president that will sign it… . The alchemy has come together for us where we have all of the pieces.”
Tauscher believes two things might move along the process. One is for President Obama to ask the Pentagon if they might implement repeal of DADT. A commission of senior military officers, perhaps headed by Colin Powell, could look at potential issues of housing and policy that opponents might raise.
Speaking with reporters afterward, Rep. Tauscher said hearings are important to educate both the public and her colleagues. She acknowledged that the Armed Services Committee is more conservative than the House as a whole.
Some have suggested that the vote in committee might pose a greater hurdle to repeal than the vote in either the full House or Senate.
Tauscher said she has not discussed with committee chairman Ike Skelton what he would like to see in place before bringing the bill forward for a vote in committee. Skelton, who represents a swath of west-central Missouri, voted for DADT in 1993 and is not on record as favoring a change.
However, Tauscher said, “I’m confident that we will be able to work with the committee leadership” to get it out of committee.
She added that congressional leadership and the White House will be weighing in on this. “At the same time, if we do our job, a lot of the mistruths out there, a lot of the fear-mongering that the opposition puts out there will dissolve very easily,” Tauscher said. “We have everything necessary to make the intellectual arguments, the moral arguments, the civil rights arguments, the strong military arguments.”
A Web cast of the entire forum is available at http://www.americanprogressaction.org.