Republicans block repeal of 'Don't ask, Don't tell' policy

With the usual procedural stymieing and partisan politicking, the US Congress showed off its talent for inaction last night by failing to pass legislation to repeal the law that bars gays from serving openly in the military even though both the president and Pentagon leaders have voiced support for it.

Living up to their growing reputation as the party of "No", Republicans successfully set a roadblock in the way of an attempt by Democrats to attach the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy introduced by the former President Bill Clinton in 1993 to a wider bill authorising annual military spending.

All hopes of moving the change through before the November elections fizzled when Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, signalled her unwillingness to cross party lines on the issue. The bill was supported by 56 votes to 43 in the chamber, not a large enough margin to avert a Republican filibuster.

On Monday, the glamour-and-glitz popular singer Lady Gaga had led a rally of almost 2,000 people in Maine to pressure Senator Collins into siding with the Democrats. The senator has said she supports repealing the ban but in the end objected to the way it was being pushed through.

With a wave of new conservatives expected to populate Capitol Hill after the November mid-terms, the prospects for ending the ban have now dwindled significantly. It is another setback for President Barack Obama, who promised early this year that he would repeal it.

Polls have shown increasing impatience with the ban and both the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, and the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, have voiced support for jettisoning pending an internal review on how it should be done. The review is due in early December.

While the Republicans may be risking the alienation of younger voters with their tactics, not all Democrats will be happy with what occurred either. By piggy-backing the measure on to the wider military spending bill, the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, hoped to get it through with minimum debate and controversy. But it was a strategy that clearly backfired.

"There are many controversial issues in this bill. They deserve to have civil, fair and open debate on the Senate floor," Senator Collins said.