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Reid Scuttles Planned Vote on ‘Don’t Ask’

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed off a vote to repeal the ban on openly gay people serving in the military Wednesday night, after it became clear he did not have the votes to support it.

By postponing action on the defense authorization bill, which includes language to repeal the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Reid at least temporarily heeded the pleas of Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) to allow more time to negotiate a time agreement on the legislation. Reid offered Collins floor time for 15 amendments to the defense measure, with 10 of those slated for Republican Members. Collins said the offer was a good start, but she needed further assurances that ample floor time would be allowed to debate each amendment.

“I hope the Majority Leader will accept my advice to not have the vote tonight, to go to the tax bill to get that behind us and to work out a fair time agreement which would allow me and perhaps other Republican Senators to vote to proceed to the [defense] authorization,” Collins told reporters less than an hour before Reid called off the vote that was slated to occur late Wednesday night. 

Lieberman issued a similar plea earlier in the day, noting he could hold together more than 60 votes to support moving to the defense bill if Reid could promise “a fair and open amendment process.”

Reid also postponed until Thursday votes on the immigration measure known as the DREAM Act and legislation offering health care and compensation to 9/11 workers. It was not immediately clear whether Reid, Collins and Lieberman would have a floor agreement settled by then to take up the defense measure.

Like Collins, a handful of other moderate Republicans have indicated their support for repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but they want the Senate to first pass an extension of Bush-era tax cuts. Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) said last week that he would vote for repeal, and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski took the same position Wednesday. But Collins is the only GOPer negotiating with Reid on the matter. Most Democrats favor a repeal of the military policy enacted in 1993 under President Bill Clinton, although Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jim Webb (Va.) have not said how they would vote.

Reid is juggling a handful of year-end priorities, and according to one Democratic source, the defense measure is the one that is ripe for floor time. A tax cut bill will not be ready until next week, and Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said earlier Wednesday that ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would also not come up until next week, if at all, before the Senate adjourns for the year.

But Republicans have said they will not support moving forward on any bill until the Senate approves the tax cuts and a continuing resolution to keep the government funded next year. The Senate is scheduled to adjourn Dec. 17.

“Obviously, Sen. Reid has many points of pressure on him to get things done before the 17th,” Lieberman said.

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