Legislation can be like a train: It runs on a track, makes certain stops along the way, and is often attached to other trains. But, in Congress, the train doesn't run on time.
Last October, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would likely get a House committee vote in September and a floor vote that fall. Didn't happen.
And last December, when Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) told a gathering of gay leaders that ENDA would pass the House in January, they weren't making a promise. They were making an educated guess.
What has been happening, of course, has been a contentious partisan fight over a major effort to ensure that most Americans have health care and an urgent push to pass a bill to preserve and create jobs for the country's growing number of unemployed. Add to that two major earthquakes requiring U.S. assistance, one major Democratic loss of a critical Senate seat, and a persistent roadblock by Republicans on everything from judicial nominees to unemployment checks.
The Senate just Tuesday night, March 2, was able to finally vote on an emergency measure to simply extend unemployment benefits and several other programs for 30 days until Congress can approve a more permanent measure. The temporary bill was delayed for five days by the refusal of one Republican senator to allow a routine vote of unanimous consent.
With this as a backdrop, Rep. Frank's prediction this week is that ENDA will have its vote in the House Committee this month. And he said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has assured him it will go swiftly to the floor.
Baldwin gave the same assessment of Pelosi's commitment to ENDA when she spoke to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund's Leadership Institute last December in San Francisco. Pelosi's commitment on ENDA, she said, ''is unflinching.'' She said Pelosi ''wants to have very quick movement of the bill from committee to floor, hopefully within a week'' of the bill's passage in committee.
Mara Keisling, head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Wednesday she is ''extremely optimistic'' ENDA will get its vote in the House Education and Labor Committee this month.
Keisling said delays last fall could be attributed to a need to make some ''language tweaks'' and that she is not entirely sure right now what the language will be concerning the so-called ''bathroom issue.'' Opponents of ENDA have often argued that the measure would enable men to use women's bathrooms.
Frank said Tuesday that there has been a general agreement reached to resolve certain language changes, including on the use of bathrooms. Kiesling said she doesn't know what that language is and that ''it might be harmless or it might be horrible.''
''We've been strenuously arguing that we don't need clarification,'' said Kiesling. ''But legislation is too often about compromise.''
Keisling noted that other compromises have included an exemption for military service and a stipulation that the bill does not require an employer to ''treat an unmarried couple in the same manner as…a married couple for purposes of employee benefits.''
Keisling said Frank has been ''working very hard'' on the bill, ''and we've been working closely with his office.''
''I want to be clear, Congressman Frank's not saying he wants bathroom language,'' said Kiesling. ''He's saying they really think we need it to pass.''
''They,'' she said, are the variety of Democratic leaders working on passing the bill. And the conclusion is that the clarifications are ''not helpful substantively or legally,'' she said, ''but they say they are helpful politically.''
© 2010 Keen News Service