WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Thursday pressured Majority Leader Harry Reid to strike a deal with Republicans to aid passage of a bill that would let gays serve openly in the military.
A dozen Democrats and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said Reid should allow an extended debate on a wide-ranging defense policy bill, which includes a provision that would repeal the 1993 law known as "don't ask, don't tell."
Lieberman said the Senate's desire to adjourn before the holidays was no reason to curtail debate and give Republicans an excuse to block the bill.
"If that's all that separates our military from getting all that they deserve in the defense authorization bill, including the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' shame on us," he said. "I'm confident we can and will" pass the legislation.
Last September, GOP senators united in sinking the measure after Reid declined to give them some two weeks to debate it. Republicans said they needed time to debate a policy measure that addresses everything from troop pay to how many cargo planes the military can buy.
Democrats expect to have the votes needed to advance the bill if an extended debate with multiple GOP amendments is allowed. Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Thursday that no decision had been made on how much time would be allotted for debate.
President Barack Obama has promised gay rights groups that he would push to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" by the end of the year. But as Senate Democrats met on Thursday to set their agenda for the lame-duck, Obama focused his efforts on pushing for ratification of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
Lieberman told reporters he wasn't discouraged that Reid hadn't struck a deal yet, calling it "the beginning of the process." He said he has appealed to his close friend Sen. John McCain on the issue, so far without success. McCain is leading GOP opposition to lifting the gay ban.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department said Thursday it would release its study on the gay ban on Dec. 1, despite calls in Congress to release it earlier. Spokesman Geoff Morrell said more time was needed to collect information from the service chiefs and secretaries.
The Pentagon assessment looks at how the law could be repealed without disruption to the services and includes a survey of about 400,000 troops.
A Senate vote was expected as soon as the week of Dec. 6. Democratic aides said that would give the Senate Armed Services Committee time to hold a hearing on the issue prior to debate.
Associated Press Writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.