As pro-gay provisions stripped from health reform, pressure grows for votes on ENDA, DADT

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., acknowledged Thursday, March 18, that the pro-gay provisions she sought in the health care reform legislation have not survived.

But Baldwin also said, during an interview in Boston last weekend, that she has counted the votes in the House on two major pro-gay pieces of legislation and believes the votes for passage are there.

Baldwin had sought and secured four pro-gay provisions in the original House version of health care reform, including a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in health care.

But neither the Senate bill nor President Obama’s proposal late last month included those provisions. Baldwin had held out hope, as late as Thursday morning, that at least two of the provisions might be added back under whatever legislative package the House and Senate would eventually vote on.

But by Thursday afternoon, when the text of that final package was posted on the Internet, that hope was quashed.

The version of health care reform legislation being considered now by Congress - with the final critical votes scheduled to begin this weekend - does include some relief for people with HIV on Medicare who must purchase expensive AIDS-related medications.

But it does not include the anti-discrimination provision or three others. Those others included the “Early Treatment for HIV Act,” which sought to allow states to provide Medicaid coverage to low-income HIV positive individuals; the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which sought to end the tax for gay employees whose partners/spouses are covered under their work health insurance coverage; and a provision to collect data toward ending disparities in health care for LGBT people.

But Baldwin does believe the votes are in place in the House to pass ENDA and a DADT repeal bill.

“As someone who has actually counted the votes, I believe that there are,” Baldwin said. “That’s one of the things the LGBT Equality Caucus does is to [focus] attention to making sure we can tell [House] leadership, with accuracy, what the vote would be if they bring the measures up to the floor.”

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is a group of legislators in the House who are strong supporters of equal rights for LGBT people. The caucus is organized similarly to the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Baldwin and Rep. Barney Frank established the LGBT Equality Caucus in June 2008. It now includes nearly 90 members of Congress.

President Barack Obama has recently met with both the Congressional Black and Congressional Hispanic caucuses, but not yet with the LGBT one. Baldwin says this is because “we haven’t put a spotlight on it of late.” She said the group “probably” would press for a meeting with the president in the future.

Pressure has grown dramatically in recent days for a spotlight on LGBT-related issues in Congress.

On Thursday, March 18, the same day Congress began reviewing a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimating the costs of health care reform, gay civil rights activists, frustrated that Congress has yet to take a vote on ENDA or repealing DADT, staged peaceful acts of civil disobedience at both the Capitol and the White House.

Lt. Dan Choi, who is being discharged from the Army because he identified himself as gay, and former Capt. James Pietrangelo II handcuffed themselves to the wrought iron fence surrounding the White House. Both were arrested, along with California activist Robin McGehee of a new group called GetEqual, who assisted them.

(A spokesperson for U.S. Park Police said Choi and Pietrangelo were held overnight and would be arraigned on Friday, March 19.)

GetEqual has pledged to take “strategic, coordinated, bold action to demand equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way.”

Also Thursday afternoon, other activists with the group staged sit-ins in both the San Francisco and Washington, D.C., offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Capitol police arrested four of the protestors at Pelosi’s Congressional office. San Francisco police arrested six people.

Responding to the protests, Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill released a statement saying, “The Speaker believes passing ENDA is a top priority and hopes that we can bring ENDA up as soon as possible. That being said, the right time to bring the measure to the floor will be when we have the votes.”

It was during the Boston interview, five days earlier, that Baldwin said she had counted the votes on ENDA and DADT and believes the votes are there.

Baldwin was in Boston on March 13 to receive an award from the Fenway Health organization, a local LGBT community medical center.

There, she acknowledged that health care reform has essentially held up all legislation in Congress in recent weeks, including the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. This bill seeks to provide equal pay for equal work in the federal workplace by granting to the domestic partners/spouses of gay federal workers the same health and life insurance, government pensions and other employment related benefits provided to the spouses of straight federal employees who are married.

The bill - which garnered words of support from President Obama during one of his first Oval Office ceremonies for an LGBT issue last June - passed a House committee in November and a Senate committee in December. But neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has moved it to the floor.

“I know [the Speaker] is supportive of the bill,” Baldwin said, “but right now, nothing moves until health care passes.”

Asked whether the LGBT community can expect a vote on ENDA and DADT this year even though midterm elections are coming up, Baldwin said, “We want the votes [taken] as soon as possible.”

“Certainly there are members of Congress who are nervous because of the economy, the rate of joblessness,” she said. “Across the country, people are agitated. On the other hand, my constituents want to see bolder and quicker change, and so I actually see positive signs to follow through [on DADT and ENDA].”

But Baldwin also said, during an interview in Boston last weekend, that she has counted the votes in the House on two major pro-gay pieces of legislation and believes the votes for passage are there.

Baldwin had sought and secured four pro-gay provisions in the original House version of health care reform, including a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in health care.

But neither the Senate bill nor President Obama’s proposal late last month included those provisions. Baldwin had held out hope, as late as Thursday morning, that at least two of the provisions might be added back under whatever legislative package the House and Senate would eventually vote on.

But by Thursday afternoon, when the text of that final package was posted on the Internet, that hope was quashed.

The version of health care reform legislation being considered now by Congress - with the final critical votes scheduled to begin this weekend - does include some relief for people with HIV on Medicare who must purchase expensive AIDS-related medications.

But it does not include the anti-discrimination provision or three others. Those others included the “Early Treatment for HIV Act,” which sought to allow states to provide Medicaid coverage to low-income HIV positive individuals; the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which sought to end the tax for gay employees whose partners/spouses are covered under their work health insurance coverage; and a provision to collect data toward ending disparities in health care for LGBT people.

But Baldwin does believe the votes are in place in the House to pass ENDA and a DADT repeal bill.

“As someone who has actually counted the votes, I believe that there are,” Baldwin said. “That’s one of the things the LGBT Equality Caucus does is to [focus] attention to making sure we can tell [House] leadership, with accuracy, what the vote would be if they bring the measures up to the floor.”

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is a group of legislators in the House who are strong supporters of equal rights for LGBT people. The caucus is organized similarly to the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Baldwin and Rep. Barney Frank established the LGBT Equality Caucus in June 2008. It now includes nearly 90 members of Congress.

President Barack Obama has recently met with both the Congressional Black and Congressional Hispanic caucuses, but not yet with the LGBT one. Baldwin says this is because “we haven’t put a spotlight on it of late.” She said the group “probably” would press for a meeting with the president in the future.

Pressure has grown dramatically in recent days for a spotlight on LGBT-related issues in Congress.

On Thursday, March 18, the same day Congress began reviewing a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimating the costs of health care reform, gay civil rights activists, frustrated that Congress has yet to take a vote on ENDA or repealing DADT, staged peaceful acts of civil disobedience at both the Capitol and the White House.

Lt. Dan Choi, who is being discharged from the Army because he identified himself as gay, and former Capt. James Pietrangelo II handcuffed themselves to the wrought iron fence surrounding the White House. Both were arrested, along with California activist Robin McGehee of a new group called GetEqual, who assisted them.

(A spokesperson for U.S. Park Police said Choi and Pietrangelo were held overnight and would be arraigned on Friday, March 19.)

GetEqual has pledged to take “strategic, coordinated, bold action to demand equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way.”

Also Thursday afternoon, other activists with the group staged sit-ins in both the San Francisco and Washington, D.C., offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Capitol police arrested four of the protestors at Pelosi’s Congressional office. San Francisco police arrested six people.

Responding to the protests, Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill released a statement saying, “The Speaker believes passing ENDA is a top priority and hopes that we can bring ENDA up as soon as possible. That being said, the right time to bring the measure to the floor will be when we have the votes.”

It was during the Boston interview, five days earlier, that Baldwin said she had counted the votes on ENDA and DADT and believes the votes are there.

Baldwin was in Boston on March 13 to receive an award from the Fenway Health organization, a local LGBT community medical center.

There, she acknowledged that health care reform has essentially held up all legislation in Congress in recent weeks, including the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. This bill seeks to provide equal pay for equal work in the federal workplace by granting to the domestic partners/spouses of gay federal workers the same health and life insurance, government pensions and other employment related benefits provided to the spouses of straight federal employees who are married.

The bill - which garnered words of support from President Obama during one of his first Oval Office ceremonies for an LGBT issue last June - passed a House committee in November and a Senate committee in December. But neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has moved it to the floor.

“I know [the Speaker] is supportive of the bill,” Baldwin said, “but right now, nothing moves until health care passes.”

Asked whether the LGBT community can expect a vote on ENDA and DADT this year even though midterm elections are coming up, Baldwin said, “We want the votes [taken] as soon as possible.”

“Certainly there are members of Congress who are nervous because of the economy, the rate of joblessness,” she said. “Across the country, people are agitated. On the other hand, my constituents want to see bolder and quicker change, and so I actually see positive signs to follow through [on DADT and ENDA].”

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