WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke on the Senate floor regarding today’s cloture vote on the Fiscal Year 2011 Defense Authorization bill, which includes a provision to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The full text of her remarks follows as delivered:
“I come to the floor to discuss the defense authorization bill and the don’t ask, don’t tell provisions included in it. Let me start by making my position crystal clear: I agree with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that the don’t ask, don’t tell law should be repealed. It should be repealed contingent upon the certifications of the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that its repeal would not have an adverse impact on military readiness, recruitment and retention. Those are exactly the provisions that are included in the defense authorization bill.
“My view is that our Armed Forces should welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable of serving our country. The bottom line for me is this: if an individual is willing to put on the uniform of our country, to be deployed in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, to risk his or her life for our country, then we should be expressing our gratitude to those individuals, not trying to exclude them from serving or expel them from the force.
“That is why, during consideration of this bill in May, I supported the compromise provisions that were put forth by Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Levin. At a previous Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, I asked Adm. Mullen if there was any evidence at all that allowing gay and lesbian troops to serve had harmed military readiness in those countries that allow their service now. At least 28 countries including Great Britain, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and Israel, allow open service by lesbian and gay troops. We have no greater allies than Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel. None of these countries – not one – reports morale or recruitment problems. At least nine of these countries have deployed their forces alongside American troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom and at least 12 of these nations allowing open service are currently fighting alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
“There is a cost involved in our current policy. According to a 2005 GAO report, American taxpayers spend more than $30 million each year to train replacements for gay troops discharged under the don’t ask, don’t tell policy. The total cost reported since the statute was implemented, according to GAO, has been nearly $200 million, and that doesn’t count the administrative and legal costs associated with investigations and hearings, and the military schooling of gay troops such as pilot training and linguist training.
“We are losing highly skilled troops to this policy. According to the GAO, eight percent of the service members let go under don’t ask, don’t tell held critical occupations defined as services such as interpreters. Three percent had skills in an important foreign language such as Arabic, Farsi, or Korean.
“More than 13,000 troops have been dismissed from the military simply because of their sexual orientation since President Clinton signed this law in 1993. Society has changed so much since 1993. And we need to change this policy as well.
“But let me say that I respect the views of those who disagree with me on this issue, such as the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. McCain, and I will defend the right of my colleagues to offer amendments on this issue, and other issues that are being brought up in connection with the defense authorization bill. There are many controversial issues in this bill. They deserve to have a civil, fair and open debate on the Senate floor. That is why I am so disappointed that rather than allowing full and open debate and the opportunity for amendments from both sides of the aisle, the Majority Leader apparently intends to shut down the debate and exclude Republicans from offering a number of amendments.
“This would be the 116th time in this Congress that the Majority Leader or another member of the majority has filed cloture rather than proceeding to the bill under an agreement that would allow amendments to be debated. What concerns me even more is the practice of filling up the amendment tree to prevent Republican amendments. If that is done on this bill, it will be the 40th time.
“Now, Mr. President, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. I support the provisions in this bill. I debated for them. I was the sole Republican on the Committee that voted for the Lieberman-Levin language on don’t ask, don’t tell. I think it is the right thing to do; I think it is only fair. I think we should welcome the service of these individuals who are willing and capable of serving their country. But I cannot vote to proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down debate and preclude Republican amendments. That, too, is not fair.
“So I am going to make one final plea to my colleagues to enter into a fair time agreement that will allow full and open debate, full and open amendments to all the provisions of this bill, including don’t ask, don’t tell, even though I will vote against the amendment to strike don’t ask, don’t tell provisions from this bill.
“Now is not the time to play politics simply because an election is looming in a few weeks. Again, I call upon the Majority Leader to work with the Republican leaders to negotiate an agreement on the terms of debate for this bill so that we can debate this important defense policy bill this week, including the vital issue of don’t ask, don’t tell.”