How the Tax Cut Deal Led to the Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Congress finally repealed the military’s 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' policy today. After 17 years, gay and lesbian troops will be allowed to serve their country without having to lie about who they are.


 By a vote of 65-31, the Senate passed a stand-alone repeal bill that had already passed the House. Eight Republicans crossed the aisle to help the Democrats achieve the 60-vote supermajority they needed to avoid a filibuster and bring the bill up for a vote. The vote came after a federal judge found the policy to be unconstitutional, and after a comprehensive review found that there was little risk repeal of the policy would affect military effectiveness. In a statement, President Obama said,

Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.

“We righted a wrong,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who pushed hard for repeal. “Today we’ve done justice.”

The truth is the policy would never have been repealed if Obama hadn’t compromised with Republicans to extend all of the Bush tax cuts. Many liberals were horrified at the idea of extending tax cuts on income over $250,000—and exempting all estates worth less than $5 million from estate taxes completely—when we are already spending more than we take in just to pay for programs most Americans consider essential. I argued at the time that the compromise made sense for Democrats, because in return for agreeing to extend the tax cuts on high incomes, they were able to extend the tax cuts for people who made less than $250,000, as well as extend unemployment benefits, cut the payroll tax, and expand earned income tax credits—all of which amounted to a huge and much-needed second stimulus.

But there was another advantage to the tax cut compromise. When Republicans threatened to block legislation until the tax cuts on income over $250,000 were extended, it wasn’t just the tax cuts on smaller incomes or unemployment benefits they were going to hold up. They were going to keep everything else from coming to the floor as well, including the New START treaty, the DREAM Act, and the repeal of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.' Without the tax cut deal, it’s unlikely any Republicans would have voted with the Democrats to bring the policy up for a vote. The price for even considering repeal, in other words, was lower taxes for the rich.

It’s a small price to pay, if you ask me. It shouldn’t take lowering the marginal tax rate for the wealthy to determine how Congress votes on a civil rights issue. But if that’s what it does take to ensure that the men and women who serve the country are treated with respect they deserve—regardless of their sexual orientation—then it’s a price I’m certainly willing to pay.

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