The Cable

Levin: We may have to separate DADT from defense bill

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.

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The Cable

Kyl says no lame duck vote on New START

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key Republican vote in the drive to ratify the New START treaty, said Tuesday he doesn't believe the treaty should be voted on this year.

"When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization," Kyl said in a statement. "I appreciate the recent effort by the Administration to address some of the issues that we have raised and I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Kerry, DOD, and DOE officials." ?

Kyl spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about it last week. A possible meeting between Kyl, Biden, Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the works and could happen on Wednesday. The treaty was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 14 to 4 on Sept. 16, and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

The Washington Post reported that the White House is offering an additional $4.1 billion for nuclear facilities. This latest offer comes on top of the other promises related to nuclear modernization, which have a price tag totaling over $80 billion, that the administration has offered in an effort to win over Senate Republicans.

A senior administration official, speaking to the Financial Times, warned if the treaty isn't ratified this year, all that money for the nuclear complex could go away. "There is a risk that not moving ahead [in the Senate now] could shatter the fragile consensus on modernizing the nuclear complex," the official said.

But a senior GOP aide tells The Cable on Tuesday that the GOP senators haven't actually received the new offer of money for the nuclear labs, nor have they received an updated version of a classified report on the nation's nuclear complex, known as the "1251 report."

"There was no offer of $4 billion for modernization. The administration hasn't even delivered the new 1251 plan yet," the aide said. When asked what this means for START ratification during the lame duck session, the aide said, "The administration's eleventh hour bid is coming two hours too late."

Administration officials say privately that they are becoming increasingly frustrated with Kyl, and increasingly skeptical that he is negotiating in good faith. They even sent a team to Arizona to present him with the administration's response to his requests, including the broad outlines of the additional $4 billion offer for modernization, one official said.

According to this administration official, Kyl asked the administration to secure the full 2011 budget request for modernization, to expedite the budget process for 2012, to show him the 2012 budget request before the Senate vote on New START, and to update the long-term plan that was submitted to Congress in May on modernization.

"They asked us for certain things, we worked through the process to give it to them," the administration source said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is waiting for the administration to strike a deal with Kyl before scheduling the debate and vote on New START. Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told The Hill, "Now that the election is over, hopefully the White House and Senate Republicans can reach an agreement that will allow us to ratify the treaty by the end of the year."

Meanwhile, senior administration officials keep driving home their message that New START must be done during the lame duck.

"Before this session of Congress ends, we urge senators to approve an arms control treaty that would again allow U.S. inspectors access to Russian strategic sites and reduce the number of nuclear weapons held by both nations to a level not seen since the 1950s," wrote Gates and Clinton in a Washington Post op-ed Monday. "Time is running out for this Congress."

President Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week that he was committed to ratifying the treaty during the lame duck session, calling it his "top foreign policy priority" for the rest of the year.

Some top Democrats are also calling for the treaty to be postponed until next year. 

"I'm a firm yes vote, but the lame duck session should focus on jobs, the economy, and reducing the debt," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told The Cable. "We can take care of the START treaty after the first of the year."

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