Aides to Senator Joseph Lieberman, a
Connecticut independent, told the Washington Post Wednesday
that the Senate could vote on a bill that would extend some benefits
to the same-sex partners of federal employees “within weeks.”
Lieberman is the lead sponsor of the
Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009 (DPBO) in
the Senate. The House version is being backed by openly lesbian
Wisconsin Representative Tammy Baldwin. The legislation cleared key
committees on both sides of Congress late last year.
Under the bill, the spouses of gay and
lesbian federal employees would be eligible for certain benefits
currently barred by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law
that prohibits federal agencies from recognizing gay unions. DPBO
would carve out an exception to the law.
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
estimate put the cost of the benefits at “$101 million over the
2010-2015 period and $310 million though 2020.”
“CBO assumes that about 0.33 percent
of federal employees would choose to register a same-sex domestic
partnership if given the opportunity,” the agency said in a report
released last week.
Officials said the estimate was based
on information gathered from state and local governments which have
adopted similar policies. Previous estimates had put the cost of the
benefits at $63 million annually.
Lieberman appeared unfazed by the cost
increase: “This legislation would cost about two-hundredths of a
percent of the federal government's overall costs for the civilian
workforce. That is a very small price to pay for the improvements we
would see in recruitment, retention and morale.”
Lieberman added that the Office of
Personnel Management (OPM) had “committed to provide an offset for
the legislation.” Those offsets won't be unveiled until the bill
reaches the full Senate.
The bill's single Republican vote out
of committee suggests the legislation might face a difficult GOP
hurdle in the Senate.
Even Baldwin has conceded that her bill
might face difficult opposition from Republicans. She admitted as
much earlier at a GLBT leadership conference in San Francisco, where
she said several important gay rights bills will need to be tucked
inside unrelated bills to clear the Senate's 60-vote threshold.
“I haven't spoken to [Senate Leader
Harry Reid], but he is looking through that 60-vote challenge. My
sense is he is looking for bills he can attach things to,” Baldwin
said. “Senator Reid is committed to finding these vehicles to pass
During a January town hall style
meeting in Tampa, President Barrack Obama reiterated his support for
“Regardless of your personal
opinions, the notion that somebody who's working really hard for 30
years can't take their death benefits and transfer them to the person
that they love the most in the world and who has supported them all
their lives, that just doesn't seem fair,” Obama said.