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Washington Week

September 19, 2010 - 6:00pm

Both the House and Senate will be conducting political gamesmanship this week, the like of which hasnt been seen in recent political history. It will play out like this.

On Tuesday the Senate will vote on a motion initiated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to begin the debate on the defense authorization bill. This is the annual bill that gives congressional authorization to the thousands of military programs and policies that make the Department of Defense function. The procedural vote requires 60 affirmative votes and will come just after the Democrats and Republicans conduct their weekly caucus luncheons Tuesday.

This writer attended these luncheons weekly for many years. They could be characterized as church-like fellowship meals, or strategic planning meetings or pep rallies. I am betting the Democratic and Republican luncheons this week will resemble a Knute Rockne win one for the gipper, fire-in-the-belly tirade on the part of the two Senate leaders. What is at stake is the ability for each party to own some of the oldest political rhetoric -- that being which party truly supports our U.S. military.

Legislation authorizing and funding our defense programs has escaped the political arena in Congress for almost two decades. Historically, members of Congress act like responsible legislators and pass these defense bills without political messaging. However, in 1993, President Clinton urged the Democrats in Congress to pass the "don't ask, don't tell" Defense Department policy on gays in the military in that years Department of Defense authorization bill.

In 2009, the Democratic leaders in Congress added the hate crimes legislation to the same defense bill. This year, the Democrats in Congress who like politicizing the Department of Defense authorization bill and use it for mischief will get double the fun. The bill up for the votes in the Senate contains a repeal of dont ask, dont tell and will become a vehicle to pass the very controversial DREAM Act. This is the new immigration policy that provides a pathway to legal residency for kids of illegal immigrants, if these children go to college or spend two years serving in our Armed Forces.

On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership are considering adding the middle class tax extension of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 to the must-pass appropriations vehicle called the continuing resolution. This is the bill that will package together all 12 spending or money bills that fund our federal government for the next fiscal year.

Our government runs out of money on Thursday, Sept. 30 if this funding is not passed through Congress. Because this Congress has failed to pass a single one of the 12 bills through both chambers, this time crunch crisis was created by the Democratic leadership. Now they want to use the crunch timeto try to jam through a vote on only a portion of the tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

I guess the days of Congress doing their constitutionalduty under Article 1, Clause 7, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution by funding the federal government are all but gone. I guess the time when Congress doesnt politicize our military has expired. So stay tuned and let the games begin!

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of

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