By Lisa Keen Keen News Service

But inclusion of amendment authorizing funds for F-22 stealth fighter jets could cause Obama to veto bill

The White House said today (Friday, July 17) it will veto a defense spending bill that includes funding for additional stealth fighter jets even if that bill also includes the best chance in 12 years for passing a law to help fight hate crimes against gays.

The Senate approved the long-sought Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act by a voice vote Thursday night. The measure, however, was approved as an amendment to an annual defense spending bill.

While President Obama has long supported the hate crimes legislation, he is adamantly opposing additional funding for the purchase of stealth fighter jets.

White House LGBT press liaison Shin Inouye released a statement today saying:

"The President has long supported the hate crimes bill and gave his personal commitment to Judy Shepard that we will enact an inclusive bill. Unfortunately, the president will have to veto the Defense Authorization bill if it includes wasteful spending for additional F-22s."

Inouye added that such a veto "would not indicate any change in President Obama’s commitment to seeing the hate crimes bill enacted."

The Senate is slated to vote on the fighter jet funding provision Monday, July 20. Sen. John McCain has introduced an amendment to strip out the money for the jets that he and the Pentagon agree could be better spent.

But many in Congress want to keep spending money on new F-22s because their production employs thousands of people working for hundreds of subcontractors in 44 states.

If the F-22 funding is approved as part of the measure and emerges intact with the House-Senate conference committee’s final version for the president, the president will veto it.

Then what?

Brad Luna, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said that once a bill is vetoed, the House-Senate conference committee meets again to come up with a version of the bill to send to the president. That new version must also be approved by both chambers, and Luna said his group is "very confident" the support exists in both chambers to keep the hate crimes measure in the bill.

The hate crimes bill passed as stand-alone legislation in the House in April. And in the Senate Thursday, a roll call vote to force consideration of the hate crimes amendment passed by a 63-to-28 margin.

"There may be some bumps along the way," said Luna, "but it will get there."

Luna also pointed out that the statement from the White House noted that the president gave Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy, his "personal commitment" that the hate crimes measure will be enacted.

Only in Washington can the fate of a bill to combat hate crimes be tied to the fate of seven stealth fighter jets. Here’s how this odd couple came to be so entwined:

Majority Leader Harry Reid said the democratically controlled Senate couldn’t get Republican cooperation to consider a stand-alone hate crimes bill. The legislation seeks to add sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability to the existing federal hate crimes law.

Some Republicans have opposed it as violating the First Amendment right of citizens to express their hatred of gays and others. They warned the law might be used to prosecute religious leaders who espouse disapproval for homosexuality, for instance, before their congregations.

Reid said passing the measure as an amendment to the DOD authorization bill then became the expedient way to gain passage. Republicans — including McCain — cried foul, saying it was attaching a non-germane issue to a much-needed defense funding bill.

But it has, in fact, been a common tactic in the Senate — one used for years by senators such as Jesse Helms — to attach all manner of anti-gay amendments to various funding measures.

The hate crimes measure was attached to the DOD authorization bill in 2007, only to be stripped out during a House-Senate conference committee.

That same scenario could be building now, especially since many Republicans oppose the hate crimes measure. McCain, the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, derided consideration of the hate crimes amendment this week as jeopardizing "the nation’s security" and "the needs of the men and women who are serving our military."

© 2009 Keen News Service

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