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A top democrat said Tuesday the US Senate had the time and votes necessary this year to lift a ban on gays serving openly in the military, countering protests by Republicans that it won't happen.
"I think we've got a good shot on 60 votes," said Senator Carl Levin, head of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, referring to the support needed in the 100-seat chamber to proceed to a vote on the bill that includes the clause to repeal the policy.
Levin said he hoped the 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains the repeal clause, could be taken up by the Senate this week.
President Barack Obama's Democratic allies have sought to use a lame-duck session of Congress to repeal the 17-year-old "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) policy that bans openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces.
If the Senate vote is pushed aside by other major legislation -- including efforts to prevent a massive New Year's tax hike and a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia -- it is much less likely to pass next year, when Republicans will assume more seats in the chamber.
Obama on Monday worked out a deal with Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans. Levin said the economic package hammered out between Obama and his political foes had little impact on his optimism over getting DADT repealed.
"I think there are enough people who think we should abolish this discriminatory measure," said Levin. "I'm not sure it (the tax deal) really changes the dynamics. It may have helped."
But the Senate's number-two Republican, Jon Kyl, warned there was too little time "to do justice to all of the things that we have to do" this year.
"That would certainly include the defense authorization bill," he said.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he didn't "see how we can possibly finish the defense authorization bill, a two-week bill, fully aside from these controversial items in it... before the end of the year."
Republicans oppose scrapping the ban, saying it would disrupt military discipline and readiness at a time when US troops are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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