Senator Lieberman bill could cross a bridge in same-sex marriage debate

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is ready to re-start a debate over domestic benefits to gay federal employees and their spouses.

Lieberman told The Hill he hopes to push a bill onto the Senate floor by the end of the year that would grant the same benefits to gay federal employees and their spouses as given any married federal employee and their spouse.

Benefits include federal health insurance, enhanced dental and vision care, retirement and disability provisions and life insurance and benefits in cases of death or disability. Members of the military would be excluded.

Lieberman said he expects to hold a hearing on the bill soon — an initial hearing was already held in the 110th Congress, but the senator said the Obama administration should be more welcoming.

“We have a whole new administration with a different attitude toward this, so I think I’d like to give people an opportunity to testify,” Lieberman said. “And then I’d like to bring the bill out sometime before the end of the year.”

In the House, the bill is being pushed by Rep. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinMembers of Congress demand new federal gender pay audit Ellison introduces bill to curb stock buybacks Dem Senate super PAC reserves million in fall TV ads MORE (D-Wis.), and has already cleared a subcommittee tasked with overseeing the federal work force. The full Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), has not yet scheduled it for a hearing.

“We’re hoping a full committee markup will be scheduled in the next couple of weeks and it will be on track for a floor vote this fall,” said Baldwin spokeswoman Jerilyn Goodman, when asked about the bill’s prospects.

Lieberman’s bill has only one GOP co-sponsor, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril Romney backs Laura Bush on border: 'We need a more compassionate answer' Amnesty International rips family separation policy: 'This is nothing short of torture' MORE (R-Maine). All of the other 24 co-sponsors are Democrats.

Asked if the bill had at least 60 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster, Lieberman said he didn’t know but that the costs of the bill should be minimal.

Lieberman said he sees the bill as a pragmatic approach to federal hiring practices — not as a civil rights issue.

“I’m sure it will be controversial,” he said. “To me this is not a question of fairness. Our committee oversees the civil service, and to me this is a way to broaden the pool of people that we can recruit to work for the federal government. This is why Fortune 500 companies give benefits to domestic partners, because it both attracts and keeps the best employees.”