The measure to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military may have to be dropped from the defense authorization bill in order to get the bill passed this year, said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).
"I'm trying to get the bill through Congress. I'm the committee chairman for a 900 page bill. ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is two pages of 900 pages. My focus is different from the media focus. I'm just trying to get a bill passed," Levin told reporters at the Capitol building on Tuesday.
While no final decisions have been made, Levin said one option was to separate the language on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from the rest of the bill, and then making two separate efforts to pass the both pieces of legislation.
"I'm trying to get both done. And if I can't get both done, I want to get one of them done," Levin said.
He said no decisions will be made until Congress receives the military's survey on the effect of repealing the ban, details of which were leaked to the Washington Post. 70 percent of troops responding to the survey said that the effects of repealing the ban would be "positive, mixed or nonexistent."
Levin said he asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to release the survey before the Dec. 1 scheduled release date, but hasn't heard back yet. He plans to hold hearings right after the survey is released and then figure out what to do next.
A long debate over the bill could mean that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) won't be able to allot precious floor time to the bill during the lame duck session of Congress.
"I don't know if this is one of the things [Reid] is trying to do. There are a lot of things he is trying to do [in the lame duck session]," Levin said.
If and when the repeal language is removed from the defense bill, that doesn't mean the legislation is good to go. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, still has concerns about how the bill deals with Iraq reconstruction funding and language dealing with abortions in the military.
But McCain told The Cable that if the Don't Ask, Don't Tell language was removed, the rest of the issue could be worked out on the Senate floor through the regular debate and amendment process. But the Don't Ask, Don't Tell language has to be gone for good.
"If we have a commitment from the House that it won't be put in by the House and sent back, we can do it [this year]," McCain said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.