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House panel approves domestic benefits bill

By Ed O'Keefe

UPDATE 7:33 P.M. ET:

The committee approved the bill 23 to 12 following more than four hours of debate. More details in tomorrow's Federal Diary column by Joe Davidson, and The Eye promises to post a more detailed transcript Thursday afternoon.


Lawmakers reconvened at 4:15 p.m. following several votes on the House floor. Members have since considered almost one dozen amendments to the measure that would, among other things, prohibit the bill from modifying the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibit illegal immigrants from obtaining any benefits, and require the Government Accountability Office to submit regular progress reports.

The debate has devolved to petty, personal attacks at several times, especially during consideration of the immigration amendment, introduced by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.)

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) blasted the proposal, saying Republicans were trying to marginalize gay people and illegal immigrants.


Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are meeting this afternoon to consider legislation that would extend domestic benefits to the partners of gay federal employees.

Staffers expect a long afternoon of debate as Democrats and Republicans go back and forth on the financial and social impact of the bill.

Supporters of H.R. 2517 argue the federal government is well behind the times.

“Make no mistake: We are losing good, hardworking people from the federal government," committee chairman Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) said at the start of the debate. Almost 10,000 American organizations offer benefits to domestic partners, including more than 20 state governments, the District of Columbia's government and most Fortune 500 companies, Towns said.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who has guided the bill through the committee, said "I think that the federal government has a responsibility here to be the shining example ... of fairness and equality in the workplace."

"I think this is the right time for this. It's been too long in waiting," Lynch said.

But the panel's ranking member, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), argued that it's foolish for the government to extend such benefits at a time when so many other Americans are out of work.

“America is suffering. America is cutting back. Americans are losing wages and benefits. ... They want jobs, they want health care and they’re going to be shocked that a new benefits at taxpayer expense got ahead of a new stimulus," Issa said.

Towns acknowledged that the bill will mean a “relatively minor” cost to the government, but said the Obama administration has committed to finding a way to pay for the measure in order to keep with House PAYGO rules.

Other Republican members voiced concerns about the bill's potential impact on traditional marriage and argue it unfairly discriminates against heterosexuals living together in non-traditional relationships, like an unmarried heterosexual couple or children living with their ill parents.

The bill "appears to diminish the standing of federal employees who may share the same dwelling and collaborate intimately with a member of the opposite sex," said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).

"Even though many people heroically care for others, outside of recognized familial circumstances, federal law has not recognized these relationships," Fortenberry said later.

"I for one stand tall for traditional marriage," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). "I think the majority of the American people stand tall for traditional marriage. In fact, 31 times in a row, put on a ballot measure in a state, the people of those states have voted in favor of recognizing and continuing to recognize traditional marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Thirty-one times in a row."

Check back later for updates. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 18, 2009; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Workplace Issues  
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Well, Mr. Fortenberry and all you other disingenuous hypocrites suddenly so concerned about the unfairness of homosexual couples getting benefits unavailable to heterosexuals who are shacking up, I'll make a deal. Give homosexual couples the SAME option to make it official (i.e., get married) that heterosexual couples have and the rest of us will give up the fight to have the federal government to extend benefits to the partners of gay federal workers. Heterosexual couples can choose whether to marry or not; even when homosexual couples choose and are able to marry, they can't get any of the federal benefits extended as a matter of course to married heterosexual couples.

Posted by: burntnorton | November 18, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Yes, we get it. You are 'standing tall'.

But you are also all claiming you are good with equal rights for gays as long as they can't get married.

Well, here's your chance to prove that.

What? No? Still won't vote for benefits for gays?

Wouldn't that make you hypocrites and liars?

Come on, Republicans. Do the right thing. Try to remember back to when your party stood for rugged individualism and decent moral values.

And moral values don't include denying the same sex partners of government workers to literally die for lack of health care coverage.

Who would Jesus deny medical care to?

Posted by: Hillman1 | November 18, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Patrick Kennedy is D-RI, not Mass.

Posted by: seve2yoo | November 18, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse

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