Saturday, January 15, 2011

ENDA in the Senate?

There was an interesting article in the Washington Blade a few days ago on the possibility of the Senate taking up and passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The very notion of Congress tackling any LGBT issues over the next two years – during which Republicans will have control over the House – seems unbelievable, but the article makes it clear that there is a chance that the Senate could vote on ENDA, with positive outcomes.

(Actually, the Senate – as well as the House – could have voted on ENDA over the last two years with positive outcomes, but there’s this strange idea floating around Washington that the LGBT community is only worth one major bill per year, and so we were granted hate crimes legislation and DADT repeal, and that was it for us in the 111th Congress. Even so, according to Act On Principles’ public whip counts for the House and Senate, I think ENDA probably would have passed in both chambers. Hindsight 20/20 and all that.)

As Majority Leader Harry Reid tells the Blade, any bill, including ENDA, will require significant support from Republicans: now that Democrats are down to a majority of 53 (including independents Lieberman and Sanders), at least seven Republicans will have to be on board with ENDA, and that’s only if every single Democrat supports the legislation as well. I’m not entirely confident we can count on the likes of, for instance, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat not to support DADT repeal.

However, we know that, at the very least, Senators Collins and Snowe will support ENDA, as they were co-sponsors of the legislation last Congress. We can also count on Kirk, who supported the legislation in the House. Given that eight Republicans supported DADT repeal, I do think it’s possible that we could also win over moderate Republicans like Murkowski, Voinovich, etc.

Everything is still very much up in the air, and ENDA will probably not be a legislative priority this congress, but a preliminary look at the logistics reveals that Senate passage of ENDA may be within reach. It would take a lot of work on our end, both from our large interest groups and from our grassroots campaigners, but it is not at all out of the realm of possibility.

But is there even a point to passing ENDA in the Senate, knowing it would never pass under Republican House leadership? As an anonymous Republican aide said, “You have to approach this as kind of putting bricks in the wall.” Working on ENDA in the Senate now would make it easier to pass it in both chambers next time we have the opportunity to do so, some would argue, as we would be able to say that it had already passed once in the Senate (the vote would be a symbolic statement, in that sense), and we would also have the necessary “infrastructure” for passing the bill that much more easily next time around.

However, it is not as though the LGBT community will not have anything to do over the next two years. There will be marriage equality battles in several states, including New Hampshire, where NOM and other anti-gay orgs are trying to roll back equality where it already exists. Even though some believe this is a state issue, our entire nationwide community needs to be on red alert for when the anti-equality troops go marching into equality states and try to drag them back in time. Working on ENDA now, some might argue, would mean taking precious time and resources away from other, more immediately pressing issues.

An interesting choice, and certainly one worth debating. What do you think: should the LGBT community lobby the Senate on ENDA now?  Vote in our poll on the right-hand sidebar, and sound off in the comments section.

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