John Shields

The F-22 v. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill

Filed By John Shields | July 17, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, hate crimes legislation, Matthew Shepard, reid, Senate

Woo Hoo~!

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed cloture in the United States Senate last night. How awesome is that?

Not much.

For starters, hate crimes legislation is a no-brainer and should have been passed as a stand-alone bill - on its own merits - months ago. My political friends will say "that's not how it works," but I have one thing to say to that: Bull. The U.S. House of Representatives passed it as a stand-alone bill in April. The Senate - still missing in action.

The Matthew Shepard bill was first attached to a Tourism Bill - if you can believe that - before being shunted off to a military funding bill.

Secondly, President Obama has repeatedly said he will veto the military authorization bill due to the politics behind the F-22 aircraft. And you can bet the Republicans will argue for funding for a war-fighting aircraft that is over-priced and past its prime to shoot down hate crimes legislation.

To me, this is ridiculous. A bit of leadership from both Capitol Hill and the White House, and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would now be law. As a stand-alone piece of legislation. And, yes - symbols matter.

I'm seeing a larger problem here, with everyone from the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With high poll numbers, a commanding lead in both houses of Congress and a popular president, I don't get it. I'm not seeing any action here, and actions speak louder than words.

First, some history regarding the hate crimes legislation, courtesy of The Washington Post:

The Senate on Thursday approved the most sweeping expansion of federal hate crimes law since Congress responded four decades ago to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The legislation, backed by President Barack Obama, would extend federal protections granted under the 1968 hate crimes law to cover those physically attacked because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

"This bill simply recognizes that there is a difference between assaulting someone to steal his money, or doing so because he is gay, or disabled, or Latino or Muslim," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

The Post goes on to say that "the measure still has a way to go." With President Obama promising to veto the defense bill because of the F-22 fighter, it's still not certain the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be enacted. For what it's worth, the United States House of Representatives - to their credit - passed a similar bill - but as independent legislation.

But enough about those more-words-and-no-action senators (as we saw with the Sotomayor hearings this week). Here's what a few gay rights organizations are saying about the vote late Thursday in the Senate to end "cloture" and attach the hate crimes bill to military spending.

From the Human Rights Campaign, which always seems to want to trumpet its own horn before it gets to the point (check out the first sentence):

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, praised the U.S. Senate today for successfully invoking a motion for cloture to proceed to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909) Amendment, which would provide local police and sheriff's departments with federal resources to combat hate violence. The cloture motion to consider the Amendment to the FY 2010 Department of Defense Authorization bill was adopted on a vote of 63 to 28.

Or this, from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund applauds the U.S. Senate's approval today of an inclusive hate crimes amendment, as part of the Department of Defense authorization bill. Hate crimes legislation cleared the House in April with a vote of 249 to 175. After the Senate finishes debate on and passes the Department of Defense authorization bill, the legislation will likely move to conference committee where differences will be ironed out.

I'm not suggesting that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will let the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act fall through the cracks. But the fact of the matter is, despite Mr. Obama's and Senator Reid's promise to get the hate crimes portion of the bill passed - until it becomes law, it's all talk and no action.

And the politics of a fighter jet versus the reality of the need for a hate crimes bill should make everyone stop in their tracks for a moment and wonder: What's going on and what are we paying these people for?

Actions speak louder than words. Show me some action.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

I read that there will be a vote next week on an amendment to get rid of the F-22 provision, but this is still disappointing, and it says a lot that the Republicans would play politics with people's lives.

We're talking about $1.75 billion dollars. That's a lot of money, but a pittance when you consider that it's part of a budget approaching $500 billion.

If the amendment fails and/or Obama ends up vetoing this bill, then I'll be really upset. There's no guarantee that the Democrats will still have a majority in the mid-term elections next year, and if the Republicans end up in the majority, then we can kiss federal hate crimes protection goodbye for a very long time.

Actually, for once we can't blame the GOP for this. They aren't the majority party so they don't get to control the content of legislation.

No, attaching the hate crimes bill to the defense bill was done by the Democratic leadership. They're obviously trying to use it as a sweetener to get Obama to sign the defense bill despite the funding for the F-22's he and Gates don't want.

So you're right that this Democratic leadership is who to pin this mess on-- the F-22 thing isn't at all about party, you've got Saxby Chambliss and Jack Murtha on one side and Barack Obama and John McCain on the other.

But as far as the idea that the F-22 debacle in specific and the placement of the hate crimes legislation into this bill have anything to do with each other, there's just no basis for such speculation. It's just an unfortunate coincidence (albeit a coincidence which we could have avoided risk of completely if we hadn't gone with the amendment strategy).

The idea of putting the hate crimes bill into the defense bill as an amendment dates from like June, which was before the F-22s in specific were raised as an issue anywhere I'm aware of and certainly before any sort of veto threat-- and I got the heavy implication from several of the news articles at the time that the strategy was adopted at the behest of HRC, or as a way of meeting HRC's requested august deadline for the bill. I have no doubt that the choice of this bill specifically as the one to amend at some point involved some element of trying to coerce the Democrats in general (especially in the House) into lining up behind the military spending bill, and the hate crimes bill damping risk of any veto threat is surely a nice bonus from Reid's perspective (although Reid, who is fighting in favor of the amendment to remove the F-22s, probably doesn't care about the F-22s one way or the other and probably just wants the bill passed somehow or other so he can look like an effective leader)? But looking at the sequence of events there's just no way that anyone could have had the opportunity to push the hate crimes bill as a tactic in favor of the F-22s...

John Shields John Shields | July 17, 2009 5:31 PM

I'm just going to jump in for a minute to give some perspective to the evolving comments.

First off, the hate crimes bill was passed as a stand-alone bill in the U.S. House in April. Secondly, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was - in March - the target (if any) for the DOD bill in question.

A few links of note, everywhere from HRC to SLDN to an editorial I wrote in the Washington Blade in March.

"Hope Emerges from Horror"

"A Time for Vigilance"

"Legislation to Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Introduced in House"

"Seize The Moment"

"Bipartisan Coalition Introduces Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act in U.S. Senate"

"SLDN Believes Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Horizon"

I hope these links help explain why the stalling tactics I mention in my article are disturbing. As much as economic and international crises concern all of us, both the hate crimes bill and the repeal of DADT would cost the American taxpayer nothing. Except their respect - of us.

And still we wait, for some type of action. It's time to stop the waiting, as well as the excuses for a Democratic majority and a president on our side of the issues.

If not now, when?

The F-22 issues is this: the hugely expensive and advanced "stealth" fighter turns out to be easily detectable on weather radar. No one bothered to check if it's high fequency invisibility applied to older detection systems.

It is useless.