Levin says diversity, tolerance and hate crimes ‘runs smack against’ what U.S. military servicemembers are fighting for in Iraq
A senior Senate Democrat said Tuesday, April 22 that he wants to use a major defense policy bill to expand federal hate-crimes laws to protect gays, bring troops home from Iraq, and force Baghdad to pay more toward reconstruction costs.
The effort would raise the flag on major issues favored by the party’s base. But only the reconstruction provision is considered to have a chance at passing — and even that proposal’s prospects would depend heavily on Republican cooperation.
Slim margins in Congress, particularly in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome procedural hurdles, have kept Democrats from enacting much of their legislative agenda since taking control last year.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested Democrats would try anyway, starting with the measure that would prohibit U.S. money from being spent on reconstruction and possibly other war-related costs.
Levin, who plans to meet this week with Defense secretary Robert Gates on the issue, says Iraq should use its massive oil profits to cover rebuilding efforts.
GOP lawmakers have signaled a willingness to back such a measure, depending on how it is written. Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire have proposed separate measures that call for Iraq or its neighbors to pay more for reconstruction.
Levin’s measure would be proposed as part of the 2009 defense authorization bill, policy legislation that guides defense spending and the acquisition and management of all military programs.
The Democratic chairman also said he hopes a broader hate-crimes law becomes part of the debate. Last year Democrats tried to attach a similar measure to the defense authorization bill but backed down after Republican protests threatened to sink the bill.
"Diversity and tolerance and hate crimes runs smack against what the men and women of the American armed forces fight for," Levin told reporters Tuesday.
The committee plans to complete the defense authorization bill by the end of next week, with a floor vote expected by the end of May.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 25, 2008.