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'Don't Ask' Repeal Back In Senate Hands

The U.S. House on Wednesday voted 250-175 to repeal the military's 17-year-old ban on openly gay American service members, kicking the issue again to the Senate where repeal supporters say they fully expect to vote on a similar stand-alone measure before the 111th Congress recesses. (The House previously passed a repeal as part of a defense authorization bill.)

The timing, however, remains a moving target. It could be well into next week before the repeal measure would be introduced.

Republican senators have said they won't take up any legislation until tax and spending bills are finished. The Senate has yet to act on the current-year omnibus spending bill, and is also mired in debate over a nuclear arms reduction treaty.

Complicating the timing of a Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal vote in the Senate is GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who says he wants the 2,000-page omnibus bill read aloud on the floor before a vote - a delaying gambit that could eat up more than 50 hours of Senate time in the waning days of the lame-duck session.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to raise the bill, introduced by Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Susan Collins of Maine, before the recess.

"We still plan to take up repeal legislation before we leave before the end of the session," says Reid spokesperson Regan Lachapelle. "But we need Republican support - that's the key."

As of Wednesday, repeal advocates say they believe they have the 60 Senate votes required to push the stand-alone measure through - if it is brought to the floor after the chamber acts on the spending bill.

Democrats control the Senate, 59-41. They count in their majority two independents, Lieberman and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Republican senators who are expected to support repeal, in addition to Collins, are Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and George Voinovich of Ohio.

Democratic leaders say they believe they can deliver most, if not all of Democratic votes, with the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who last week joined Republicans voting against opening debate on a defense bill that included repeal.

A high-ranking Senate aide involved in the issue said that advocates are "confident we're going to get a vote, and confident it will pass."

However, the aide said, "It's really impossible at this time to predict a timeline."

But it will likely be after Monday before the issue is raised.

Supporters believe Reid has the votes, and could get repeal passed. But their one worry is that the longer the vote is pushed off next week, the more chance there is that supporters of the measure will have begun leaving the nation's capital for the Christmas holiday.

Here's how the Senate timetable looks right now, with the assumption that DeMint pushes forward with his insistence on a reading of the spending bill: the Senate debates the START treaty Thursday, but moves to the spending bill at some point.

If the bill has to be read, the reading could last into Saturday. Given Senate rules, the earliest members could then vote on the measure would be Monday morning. They would then likely move back to the START treaty before taking up other legislation.

The House vote marks the latest chapter in a year-long legislative drama over the Clinton-era policy. Repeal, a goal of President Obama, has been endorsed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen.

A recently-completed Pentagon report concluded that repeal would not adversely affect military readiness and unit cohesion.

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