Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-8th Dist. ) took over the legislative effort to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers last summer and has helped the bill achieve its highest level of cosponsorship ever. However, several of Murphy’s fellow Keystone State Democrats have yet to add their names to the bill.
The Military Readiness Enhancement Act currently has 187 cosponsors, about 40 more than when Murphy signed on as lead sponsor in August.
Of the 11 Democrats from Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives, seven, Murphy included, have attached their names as cosponsors. Not among that list are Congressmembers Jason Altmire (4th Dist.), Christopher Carney (10th Dist.), Paul Kanjorski (11th Dist.) and Tim Holden (17th Dist.).
None of the four lawmakers returned repeated calls for comment.
Rep. John Murtha (12th Dist.), who died earlier this month, also was not a cosponsor, and none of the seven Republican legislators from Pennsylvania is cosponsoring the bill.
In recent weeks, an array of current and former high-ranking military officers has spoken out in support of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” along with former Vice President and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.
Murphy proffered that such statements may encourage more legislators to add their names to his bill.
“With senior military leadership such as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. [Mike] Mullen, Secretary [Robert] Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell — an architect of the original policy — advocating for repeal of this hurtful law, I’m confident that we’ll see support for overturning the ban continue to build among both Democrats and Republicans,” Murphy said.
The Armed Services committees of both the Senate and House held hearings Tuesday on the defense-authorization requests for next year.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George Casey, who testified before the Senate committee, said he supported the plan Mullen and Gates laid out during a recent committee hearing — in which they said the military will take about a year to study the impact of repealing the law — but said he did not favor a moratorium on discharges.
“I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of the law on a force that is fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight-and-a-half years,” Casey said. “We just don’t know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness.”
Murphy’s bill will need 218 votes to be approved. He has said he has nearly two-dozen assurances from legislators to vote for the bill but who declined to cosponsor, leaving the count at about 211.
Joining Murphy on the bill are fellow Pennsylvania Democrats Bob Brady (1st Dist.), Kathleen Dahlkemper (3rd Dist.), Mike Doyle (14th Dist.), Chaka Fattah (2nd Dist.), Allyson Schwartz (13th Dist.) and Joe Sestak (7th Dist.).
The bill is currently in the House Armed Services Committee, and it has been reported that it could be attached to the 2011 Defense Authorization Act — an annual military spending bill typically introduced in the summer.
Murphy did not comment on a specific timeline for a vote, but did express confidence that the bill would move forward.
“I’m focused on garnering additional support from my House colleagues, but repeal is clearly now a matter of when, not if,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced this week that he will introduce a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal bill in the Senate next week, marking the first time that such a bill will be considered in the upper chamber of Congress.