On one of the most shameful days in the modern history of the Senate, the Republican minority on Thursday prevented a vote to allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the military of the United States. They chose to filibuster a vital defense bill because it also banned discrimination in the military ranks. And in an unrelated but no less callous move, they blocked consideration of help for tens of thousands of emergency workers and volunteers who became ill from the ground zero cleanup after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The senators who stood in the way of these measures must answer to the thousands of gay and lesbian soldiers who must live a lie in order to serve, or drop out. They must answer to the civilians who will not serve their country when some Americans are banned from doing so for an absurd reason, and to the military leaders who all but pleaded with them to end this unjust policy. They must answer to the workers who thought they were aiding their country by cleaning up ground zero.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said that he would allow another vote on repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in a free-standing bill later this month. That long shot is likely to be the final test of whether the Republicans are interested in allowing military equality.
Republicans wanted extra days of debate, demanding the right to amend the defense bill that contained the repeal provision, and essentially killing the bill without quite admitting to it by suffocating it of time. Mr. Reid said he had concluded that they had no intention of repealing the repressive measure, so he called for a vote.
The outcome was three votes short of the 60 needed to break the filibuster. Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted to end the filibuster. Two Republicans who said they would vote for repeal, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, voted the other way, as did one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Ms. Murkowski and Mr. Brown stuck with a Republican pledge to support no other measures until the tax-cut deal had been dealt with.
Mr. Reid will undoubtedly be second-guessed on his decision to call for a vote, but given the other-worldly logic of a lame-duck session, it is hard to fault his hard-bitten calculation of the Republicans’ intentions. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that if debate on the 850-page defense bill did not begin this week, there would be no time to finish it in the remaining few days of the session.
The defense bill would also have raised pay for soldiers, improved their medical care and provided troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with additional equipment and support. It would be the first time in 48 years that Congress did not approve such a bill — all because of an irrational prejudice against gay men and lesbians.
The filibuster on $7.4 billion in medical care and compensation for the workers at ground zero will be harrowing for the tens of thousands who labored tirelessly for weeks and eventually had to seek care under a patchwork of temporary medical and research programs in the city. These police, firefighters and waves of citizen volunteers need ongoing care for illnesses being traced to the toxic fumes, dust and smoke at ground zero.
In the House, Democrats also took a wrongheaded vote to ban transfers of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to detention facilities in the United States. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has urged the Senate to strip the provision from the final bill.
Another measure of overdue justice — the Dream Act, which would empower the innocent children of illegal immigrants with education and public service opportunity — barely survived a Republican filibuster in the Senate after being tabled by proponents hoping to drum up support in coming days. There is little sign of encouragement, however, for that good cause or others as the 111th Congress expires in the grip of Senate Republicans demeaning public service as an exercise of naysaying.