The House today approved the conference report for the fiscal year 2010 Defense Authorization bill on a 281-146 vote. Most of the nays were Republicans who were incensed that House Democratic leaders had attached to the bill an amendment expanding federal hate-crime law so it would be a federal crime to assault people because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
To wit, from House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio:
“Democrats have done a great disservice to the brave men and women of our Armed Forces today by using them as leverage to pass radical social policy. They engineered this abuse of the legislative process because they had no way other to pass legislation that is unconstitutional and just plain wrong. Our troops – and their families – deserve better.
“All violent crimes should be prosecuted vigorously, no matter what the circumstance. The Democrats’ ‘thought crimes’ legislation, however, places a higher value on some lives than others. Republicans believe that all lives are created equal, and should be defended with equal vigilance.”
But for Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont – the only Bay Area member to cross the aisle and vote with Republicans against the bill – the hate-crimes language was the only good thing about it. He said:
“Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to the Defense Authorization bill. As we focus on slowing the rising cost of health care, we should be just as vigilant about ever higher levels of defense spending.
“No one on the international stage comes close to our military spending. The United States accounted for 41.5 percent of the entire world’s military spending in 2008 – the next closest country was China at 5.8 percent. To put this in perspective, if we spent only six times as much as the next closest country, instead of seven times as much, we would have more than enough money to completely pay for health care reform.
“I urge my colleagues to join me in voting against the Defense Authorization bill. That said, there is an important provision in the bill that I support, extending hate crimes laws to cover sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. I have supported hate crimes legislation throughout my career in Congress, including as a co-sponsor of this legislation when it was approved by the House in April, and I am glad that the hate crimes provision in this bill will finally become law.”