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Push for Gay Rights Policy Collides With Fiscal Demand

Democrats’ plan to end the ban on openly gay individuals serving in the military is on a collision course with a White House push to end two warplane production programs that the administration has deemed wasteful.

And key Democrats are indicating that fiscal concerns could trump their civil rights crusade.

The leading Senate advocate for repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy said Wednesday that he was not troubled by Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ statement that he would “strongly recommend” that President Barack Obama veto any bill that does not end the C-17 cargo plane and F-35 fighter plane alternative engine program. Gates said it “would be a serious mistake to believe the president would accept those unended programs” to preserve the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal.

“That’s OK with me. I agree,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) said Wednesday, adding that he also supported ending the plane programs and would fight to make sure they are not continued so that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal could be preserved.

“That’s how strongly they feel about not wasting money on projects that are not first priority,” Lieberman added, referring to the two plane programs.

Lieberman’s position on the plane programs puts him at odds with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Lieberman’s partner in pushing for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. Levin has not supported ending the plane programs.

Gates and Lieberman’s statements further complicate the path to clearing a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal this year. Compromise language repealing the 1993 policy was included in versions of the defense authorization bill that the House and the Senate Armed Services committees both passed last month. But Senate Republicans have threatened to filibuster the measure on the floor to preserve “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and Armed Services ranking member John McCain on Wednesday renewed his pledge to oppose the repeal.

The Arizona Republican, who has fought to end the two plane programs, said he was heartened by Gates’ comments, adding, “I guess the president has to weigh all of his options.”

McCain also blasted Levin for bringing debate over gays in the military into the defense authorization bill, noting that last year, Democrats attached hate crimes legislation to the measure.

“He’s using the defense authorization bill as a vehicle for their social agenda and campaign promises, and it’s in violation of the tradition of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” McCain said.

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