Expanded benefits for the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees could top the Obama administration’s social agenda in 2010.
The health-care Christmastime debacle largely overshadowed the vote, but a Senate committee, chaired by Joe Lieberman, passed a bill Dec. 16 that would give federal employees’ same-sex domestic partners identical benefits as married spouses. A House committee approved a similar bill in November.
Championing the issue this year would be safer for Obama than scuttling the federal Defense of Marriage Act or pushing his abortion agenda. The furor over right-to-life protections in the health-care overhaul should be enough to convince the president that this is ground where angels dare not tread, particularly in an election year (and particularly with your approval numbers sinking into the political abyss).
And by signing same-sex domestic partner benefits into law, Obama would show his disgruntled base of social leftists that he’s willing to play ball — if only T-ball.
Still, the bills could be a tough sell — not for moral reasons, but fiscal ones. A Congressional Budget Office analysis (PDF download) from December found that the House version of the bill would increase direct and discretionary spending by nearly $900 million over the next nine years without having any direct impact on federal revenues.
A comparatively small number, to be sure, in an age when “trillion” has become a common part of the American lexicon. Even so, devoting additional perks to federal employees (as if an explosion in six-figure salaries during the recession weren’t enough) won’t sit well with constituents already angry at unthinkable deficits.
More fuel for the fire.