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Defense bill includes immigration, 'don't ask, don't tell' measures

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune News

Reporting from Washington —Senate Democrats plan to push key policy objectives, including a repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military and an immigration measure, by linking them to a must-pass defense bill coming before lawmakers this week.

The annual defense authorization bill provides a 1.4% pay raise for troops and $725 billion for the Pentagon, including $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats have added a provision that would abolish the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and want to add the so-called Dream Act, which would provide a route to citizenship for youths who are in the country illegally.

Both political parties have used the authorization bill in years past to advance other legislative goals, and it would be unusual for the military spending plan to fail. But the process has become politicized, especially in the limited time remaining before Congress adjourns to campaign full time.

Senate Republicans vowed to filibuster the bill, accusing Democrats of using it to woo voters. “To pursue a social and legislative agenda to galvanize voting blocs, I believe, is reprehensible,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised that the Dream Act would constitute the first amendment to the defense bill. Under the act, young people who are in the country illegally could become eligible for legal residency after attending college or serving in the military for two years.

The measure appeals to Latino voters, whose turnout will be especially important in the Western states where Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) are in tough campaigns to retain their seats.

Backers cheered the attempt to win passage.

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