House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO), who supports the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy and has promised to oppose any efforts to repeal it, is telling reporters that his constituents don’t care about gays openly serving in the military:
“I was everywhere in my district, everywhere. It just wasn’t raised,” Skelton said. “There are other things on people’s minds, like jobs and the economy.”
Nevertheless, he pledged to continue to oppose repealing the 1993 legislative language, of which he was the original sponsor, despite the fact that a large majority of Congress has voted to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military. “I oppose it, period,” he said.
Not only is Skelton not talking to his voters about his crusade to preserve the ban, he’s not talking to the military people his committee represents, either.
The point , of course, is that outside of a small vocal group of opponents, soldiers don’t care either. A poll of military personnel released in March found that sexual orientation is “not a burning issue that overwhelms veterans’ lives.” The poll, commissioned by The Vet Voice Foundation and conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic pollsters finds that most veterans are “comfortable around gay and lesbian people, believe that being gay or lesbian has no bearing on a service member’s ability to perform their duties, and would find it acceptable if gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military.” Sixty-percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans believe that being gay or lesbian “has no bearing on a service member’s ability to perform their duties” and 73% say it is “personally acceptable to them if gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military.”
If his constituents don’t care about gays in the military and most soldiers don’t think a members’ sexuality affects their performance, then why is Skelton so concerned?
As part of the Obama administration’s plan to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the Pentagon has convened a “Working Group” that is meeting with servicemembers, chaplains, and others individuals about how to repeal the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military. The process is going to take until at least Dec. 1, 2010, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said that the President is committed to letting the group complete its work before moving forward. Some members of Congress have raised the possibility of passing DADT repeal legislation this year — before the review process is complete — and delaying implementation until next year.
However, today Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) a letter (in response to an inquiry from Skelton) telling him that he doesn’t want Congress to take any action at all on DADT this year. From the letter obtained by ThinkProgress:
I believe in the strongest possible terms that the Department must, prior to any legislative action, be allowed the opportunity to conduct a thorough, objective, and systematic assessment of the impact of such a policy change; develop an attentive comprehensive implementation plan, and provide the President and the Congress with the results of this effort in order to ensure that this step is taken in the most informed and effective matter. [...]
Therefore, I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process.
Gates’ moratorium on any DADT action this year is troubling. Thirteen Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to replace DADT with a new nondiscrimination policy that “prohibits discrimination against service members on the basis of their sexual orientation.” The Senate bill mirrors Rep. Patrick Murphy’s (D-PA) repeal bill in the House but goes several steps further, laying out a timeline for repeal and setting benchmarks for the Pentagon’s ongoing review of the policy.
Gates’ stance makes it significantly harder for Congress to help fulfill Obama’s pledge to repeal DADT and has some supporters of repeal questioning the Pentagon’s dedication to moving forward. Democrats in Congress will have a tougher time attracting moderate and Republican co-sponsors in light of this letter, and if Congress waits until next year — after the Pentagon review is completed — to move forward on legislation, the make-up of the legislature will be different and could again delay repeal.
Statement from Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson, who is a former U.S. Army interrogator discharged under DADT:
If the White House and the Department of Defense had been more engaged with us and had communicated with us better about the alternatives available, Secretary Gates would surely not feel that legislative action this year would disrespect the opinions of the troops or negatively impact them and their families. This is partly a failure of the Administration to substantively engage the gay military community in a timely manner, and it remains unacceptable. The Commander-in-Chief should strongly and immediately speak out about the need to move swiftly and decisively on this issue for the sake of military readiness. It is, after all, as the President said, “the right thing to do.”
,DADT repeal advocate Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is pushing back on Gates’ recommendation, saying, “There is no reason why Congress shouldn’t pass legislation this year that would time the repeal to follow the conclusion of the study.”
,Response from the White House: “The President’s commitment to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is unequivocal. This is not a question of if, but how. That’s why we’ve said that the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The President is committed to getting this done both soon and right.”
As ThinkProgress reported earlier today, some military families have been concerned about how the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will affect their health care. Fears about the legislation have been fueled, in part, by lawmakers like Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), who has claimed that “now their programs are going to be administered like welfare programs, rather than earned military benefits.”
There is another piece of misinformation floating around that’s important to clear up. The new law has an individual responsibility requirement, meaning that every person must have health coverage (or receive an affordability waiver), otherwise he/she will be subjected to a fee. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t explicitly state that TRICARE — the military’s health program — will meet the individual responsibility requirement. So on Saturday, lawmakers — out of an abundance of caution — passed separate legislation affirming that TRICARE will not be affected. As House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) stated when the legislation was unanimously approved:
While beneficiaries of these programs will already meet the minimum requirements for individual health insurance and will not be required to purchase additional coverage, the TRICARE Affirmation Act would provide clarification by changing the tax code to state it in law.
In the Senate, Jim Webb (D-VA) has introduced a companion bill to Skelton’s, and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) has put forth similar legislation on a related matter. Last night, Webb asked for unanimous consent to approve both measures. While Akaka’s would have to head back to the House for a vote, Webb’s — which has attracted six Republican co-sponsors — could go straight to the President for his signature, since the House already passed the Skelton bill. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected, however, saying that Republicans wanted them attached to the reconciliation bill as an amendment sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), which would then have to go back to the House:
WEBB: Mr. President, I would suggest to my colleague from North Carolina and to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that if you really want to fix this problem, we can fix it right now and we should fix it right now. We should not allow this issue to be tied up in the separate melodrama of the moment here. [...]
COBURN: We’ve got this — we got this a minute and a half ago to see the language. You have an amendment on the floor that actually accomplishes everything you want to do, and why are we doing this? Because you don’t want to mess up a package that’s clean. It has every application, the Burr amendment, to this. With that and the fact that this is exactly the kind of shenanigans the American people don’t want, I object.
WEBB: Let the American people understand the Republicans objected to a matter that could have been fixed by law tomorrow.
Webb brought his legislation up on the floor again today, around 4:30 p.m., saying that he would be working with Republicans to “attempt to clear these today.” Watch Webb’s floor addresses:
Republicans had been trying to attach all sorts of “poison pill” amendments to delay the reconciliation legislation, including one to ban all federal funding for the group ACORN, which has already announced that it is shutting down. Since their attempt failed, and the reconciliation bill is already back in the House, the TRICARE legislation needs to pass the Senate as a stand-alone bill, as Webb had tried to do yesterday.
Even though Bilbray and all other House Republicans voted for this measure, they’re now trying to argue that it doesn’t go far enough. Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) has another piece of legislation on the issue, which has attracted 32 co-sponsors — all Republicans. Bilbray spokesman Fritz Chaleff wrote to ThinkProgress that Skelton’s legislation says only that “TRICARE meets the minimal standards of coverage,” while the GOP bill “carves out TRICARE from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” However, Democratic aides on Capitol Hill told ThinkProgress that the the Skelton legislation is more than sufficient and the other bill is political grandstanding.
Everyone from military and veterans organizations to the chairs of relevant House committees to Veterans Affairs officials have confirmed that TRICARE will not be affected by the new health care law.
Rep. Martin Henrich (D-NM) has also now introduced legislation that would “change the maximum age of coverage for children from 23 to 26″ for military families on TRICARE. The Affordable Care Act allows individuals with private insurance to cover their children up until age 26 also.
This week, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) told KUSI in San Diego that one of the most offensive parts of the health care reform law is that it will move TRICARE, the health program covering servicemembers and their families, out of the Defense Department and “to the department that handles welfare.” He added that once members of the military find out, “all hell is going to break loose”:
BILBRAY: When the retired military finds out that their TRICARE has been moved out of the Department of Defense to the department that handles welfare — when you tell somebody that’s served this country in the military, that now their programs are going to be administered like welfare programs, rather than earned military benefits, all hell is going to break loose. I can’t wait for mom to hear that her TRICARE now is going to be administered by the welfare people.
Q: That’s just one of the things we keep finding out as we keep peeling the onion on this day after.
There is no basis to Bilbray’s claim, which he has repeated to other outlets. The Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services administers the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, aka “welfare,” and nothing in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says that TRICARE will be going there. “Those who depend on TriCARE should rest assured — TRICARE will not change under health insurance reform,” HHS spokesman Nick Papas told ThinkProgress. TriCARE spokesman Austin Camacho has also said, “Tricare is a DoD agency, and I’m quite sure it will stay that way.” Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), appearing on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal on Monday, insisted that the Affordable Care Act won’t affect military care. Watch it:
Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan denounced the voices who are trying to “frighten veterans” with misinformation on TRICARE:
It is unfortunate that some continue to raise what is now even more clearly a false alarm that is apparently meant to frighten veterans and their families in order to prompt them to oppose the pending legislation. While there is legitimate debate as to whether or not the pending health care measures should become law, VVA does not appreciate spreading rumors that are not accurate by any political partisan from any point of the political spectrum
Even the American Legion, usually one of the most conservative veterans groups, has said military members “can rest assured that her TRICARE benefits are secure under the law signed by President Obama.” The Veterans of Foreign Wars is urging the passage of a companion GOP bill, saying it “would help clear up ambiguities.”
Additionally, the chairs of five House committees — including Veterans Affairs and Armed Services — have written that they reviewed the health care legislation and concluded that the intent “was never to undermine or change” TRICARE. VA officials, including Shinseki, have said the same.
Speaking before a gathering of coal-powered executives, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) announced Tuesday that he, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) were introducing yet another piece of legislation to roll back Clean Air Act action on global warming pollution. Skelton’s Dirty Air Act comes on the heels of similar legislation by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND). At the Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative State Legislative Conference, Skelton argued that because Congressional action on climate has “stalled” in the Senate, he “cannot tolerate turning over the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions to unelected bureaucrats” at the Environmental Protection Agency:
Simply put, we cannot tolerate turning over the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions to unelected bureaucrats at EPA. America’s energy and environmental policies should be set by Congress. It appears the clean energy bill moving through Congress is stalled. Let us set that bill aside and pass this scaled-back energy legislation. This bill, which represents a responsible way to move forward on energy legislation, gets the EPA under control, provides good things for American farmers, and builds upon bipartisan objectives that will help curb climate change and make our nation more energy independent.
The attacks on “unelected bureaucrats” are nonsense — the mandate to declare global warming emissions air pollutants came from the U.S. Supreme Court, the finding that global warming threatens the health and welfare of Americans came from independent scientists, and the plans for action have been approved by the Senate-confirmed EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and the duly-elected President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Critically, Skelton’s legislation would forbid defining any greenhouse gas as an “air pollutant” on the “basis of its effect on global climate change,” and prevent the consideration of the effect of ethanol production on land use.
Just as the coal industry has been warring against the science of global warming, the corn ethanol industry has been attacking the science of indirect land use change, which finds that a massive increase in biofuel production can cause farmers around the world to change how they plant crops and encourages the destruction of forests — leading to increased global warming pollution. These secondary effects can lessen or swamp out the global warming benefits of switching from fossil fuels to biofuels. Climate denier Peterson, who inserted pro-ethanol language in the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act for the agriculture industry last year in exchange for his vote, has announced he won’t support climate legislation again if it came up for a new vote. Amidst this political morass, the EPA this week incorporated land use effects into its biofuels mandate.