WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats plan to push key policy objectives, including a repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military and an immigration measure, by linking them to a must-pass defense bill coming before lawmakers this week.
The annual defense authorization bill provides a 1.4 percent pay raise for troops and $725 billion for the Pentagon, including $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democrats have added the provision to abolish the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy to a measure called the DREAM Act.
The "don't ask, don't tell" law, enacted in 1993, has been targeted by President Barack Obama for repeal, and a federal judge in California earlier this month declared it unconstitutional. Under the proposed legislation, repeal would take effect 60 days after completion of a Pentagon report on steps needed to ensure military readiness. The report is due in December.
The DREAM Act — formally known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — would create a path to citizenship for youths brought to the United States illegally. The youths could become eligible for legal residency after attending college or serving in the military for two years. The act was first introduced in a different form in 2001. In 2007, a version of the bill fell short of the 60 votes needed to bring it to a vote.
On Sept. 14, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., revived the proposal when he announced he would attach the DREAM Act to the defense bill.
The addition of "don't ask don't tell" and the immigration measure to the defense legislation has caused outrage among conservatives. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has promised to prevent the defense authorization bill from reaching the Senate floor.
Reid and other DREAM Act supporters face a tough battle to get the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. With the vote expected to be so close, interest groups are not sitting this out.
NumbersUSA, which seeks to reduce all immigration, began lobbying against the amendment the day of Reid's announcement. By Friday, members had sent over 100,000 faxes to senators advocating a no vote.
DREAM Act supporters are also mobilizing. The Campaign to Reform Immigration for America has made 50,000 phone calls and sent 70,000 faxes to senators since last Tuesday. The campaign and other groups have partnered with members of the business community who believe that America's aging demographics make immigrant labor necessary.
Both sides of the debate are focusing attention and resources on the 30 or so senators who have not stated publicly how they will vote.
Information from Hearst Newspapers and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.