As his panel prepares to mark up the FY09 defense authorization bill next week, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin signaled Tuesday that he will not shy away from supporting amendments that will likely trigger a presidential veto.
Levin said he hopes to attach hate crimes language to the defense bill either during the committee’s closed-door markup or as an amendment offered during floor debate on the bill.
Language addressing hate crimes is a “very appropriate” amendment to the annual defense policy measure because it represents “one of the values of this country” that the military fights to protect, Levin told reporters.
Last year, Senate Democrats narrowly succeeded in passing an amendment to the Senate’s FY08 authorization bill that would have extended the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation and provided federal assistance to state and local authorities investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
But they set off a prolonged confrontation with the House, where lawmakers from both parties were concerned that its inclusion could jeopardize passage of the bill. Even if it passed both chambers, House Democrats feared President Bush would veto the bill.
Senate negotiators ultimately agreed to drop their insistence that hate crimes language be included in the conference report. At the time, Levin bemoaned the exclusion of the language, arguing that Democrats lost their best opportunity to pass hate crimes legislation in the 110th Congress.
In addition to hate crimes, Levin said might try once again to push for troop-withdrawal language on either the defense authorization bill or the upcoming supplemental spending bill covering operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The language likely will be a version of an amendment Levin and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., tried unsuccessfully to attach to the FY08 defense authorization measure, Levin said. That amendment, which failed 47-47, would have required all but a residual force to withdraw from Iraq nine months after enactment of the bill.
Levin also said he plans to leverage the authorization bill to limit U.S. funding for Iraq reconstruction and require the Iraqi government to tap money from the country’s oil revenues to pay for rebuilding efforts.
He is likely to have bipartisan support for this effort, at least on his committee. Last week, Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced they had co-signed letters to Senate leaders and the Senate Appropriations Committee to seek support for their effort to require Iraq to “shoulder the responsibility for some of the reconstruction, security and related costs to date paid for by U.S. taxpayers.”
Levin said he expects the Senate to vote on the authorization bill by the end of May.
This article appears in the April 26, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.