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Political Notebook

Pentagon ready to offer input on repealing military’s ban on gays

January 29, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The Defense Department next week will for the first time propose a way forward on lifting the military’s ban on gays from serving openly, the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said yesterday.

President Obama has vowed to work with Congress this year to repeal the law, but Democrats have been waiting to hear from the military on how it could be done.

In special hourlong testimony Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are expected to identify specific steps the military will take before the law is changed to lessen the impact on a force fighting two wars.

The plan also is aimed at helping to determine how Congress can write a new law.

Between 1997 and 2008, the Defense Department released more than 10,500 service members for violating the policy. The number of dismissals dropped sharply after the 2001 terrorist attacks, as forces were heavily deployed around the world, with half as many troops fired in 2008 as in 2001.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Girl, 6, who met Obama loses battle with leukemia
NEW YORK - Jasmina Anema, a 6-year-old New York girl with a rare form of leukemia, died yesterday, a month after she got her wish to meet President Obama.

Jasmina was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia last January. With sponsorship from the Make-A-Wish foundation, she visited the Oval Office in December and chatted with the president for about 10 minutes.

“Jasmina showed tremendous bravery in the face of adversity,’’ the president said in a statement. “Her ability to stay positive throughout her battle was an inspiration to me and to all those she touched. As the parents of two young girls, our hearts particularly go out to Jasmina’s devoted mother, Thea.’’

ASSOCIATED PRESS

RNC’s Steele expects to seek a second term

HONOLULU - Michael Steele, Republican National Committee chairman, said he plans to seek a second term when his current one expires at the end of 2010.

Steele told reporters at the party’s winter meeting in Honolulu that he would run for a second term “as long as the members will have me.’’

The chairman acknowledged that he can be controversial.

“My style is not something you get used to very easily, I know that,’’ he said.

“But at the end of the day, the members of this party - and this is what they reinforced to me - charged me to do two things: raise money and win elections. On those two fronts, I think we are doing OK.’’

BLOOMBERG

Pelosi says health care bill still on track - two tracks
WASHINGTON -The House is taking a two-track approach in its attempt to deliver comprehensive changes to the health care system, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday. The more immediate step, the speaker said, would be passing a series of smaller, popular health care bills that would address such issues as removing the antitrust exemption for insurance companies.

As those bills progress, House and Senate leaders would continue to work on fashioning a series of changes to the nearly complete comprehensive health care bill.

Passage of the comprehensive bill has been stalled since the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts deprived Democrats of their 60th vote in the Senate, which is needed to prevent the GOP from bottling up the vote with a filibuster.

One option under consideration to circumvent the filibuster would be the use of a special budget procedure known as reconciliation. Such a procedure allows the Senate to pass certain parts of the legislation, those mainly linked to funding and taxes, by a simple majority of 51 votes.

After the changes are approved, the House would pass the full bill. Some Senate moderates, however, have expressed concern about using reconciliation to finish work on health care.

Pelosi insisted yesterday that Democrats will not abandon the comprehensive bill.

“We must take whatever time it takes to do it,’’ she said.

The insurers’ antitrust exemption, established in 1945, has long been criticized, with some analysts contending it allows insurance companies to collude in the marketplace. Dropping the exemption has support in both the House and Senate

An aide to Pelosi said the series of smaller bills could be unveiled before the mid-February recess.

LISA WANGSNESS