Republicans and two Democrats on Tuesday blocked a defense bill in the Senate that would have paved the way for the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay service members.
The Senate came up three shy of the 60 votes needed to begin debating a $725 billion defense authorization bill that included a provision lifting the ban. Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both Arkansas Democrats, voted against the measure, as did Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both moderate Republicans who the Democratic leadership had hoped would back the bill.
The legislation's defeat also dashed the hopes of some immigration reform proponents because the bill was to serve as a vehicle for an amendment providing a path to citizenship for children living in the United States illegally.
Following the bill's defeat, Republicans and Democrats accused each other of politicizing the critical defense measure, which House Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said is needed to provide funding guidelines for the Pentagon next year.
"I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues put partisan politics ahead of the best interests of the men and women who courageously defend our nation," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the vote.
Republicans said it was the Democrats who politicized the defense bill by adding the "don't ask" provision and proposing to amend it with the immigration reform amendment, known as the DREAM Act, which would have allowed children who came illegally to the United States before the age of 16 to become citizens if they complete some college or join the military.
"In Senator Reid and the Democrats' zeal to get re-elected, this is a cynical ploy to try to galvanize and energize their base," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said. "It's a cynical act for political reasons as the election nears and they to try to salvage what appears to be a very losing campaign."
Collins said she is in favor of repealing "don't ask," but voted against bringing the bill to the floor for debate because she did not have assurances from Reid that he would allow Republicans the chance to add amendments.
"There are many controversial issues in this bill," Collins said. "They deserve to have a civil, fair and open debate on the Senate floor. Now is not the time to play politics simply because an election is looming in a few weeks."
Levin told reporters after the vote that he does not know when the Senate will take up the defense bill again, and defended the provision to repeal "don't ask," pointing out that it has the support of Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"When Admiral Mullen said back in February that he wanted to change the policy, was there a political motive behind what Admiral Mullen said?" Levin said. "Was he looking forward to the election?"
The "don't ask" and DREAM Act provisions are not likely to come up again this year.