The Hill's Roxana Tiron reports:

The leading Senate Democrat on military matters pleaded with the upper chamber to start debating the 2011 defense policy bill, but he struck a pessimistic tone over the bill's chances to make it to the president's desk for the final signature.

The massive 2011 defense authorization bill is the vehicle for the repeal of the "Don't ask, don't tell" law — the ban on openly gay people from serving in the military.

"Even if we get 60 votes today to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill, and even if we're able to consider amendments and pass this bill in a few days, it will be a possibly insurmountable challenge to work out all of the differences with the House," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday. "Over the last 10 has taken an average of 75 days to conference the defense authorization bill with the House after we pass it. If we don't proceed on this bill this week, then invoking cloture sometime next week, even if we can do it, it would be a symbolic victory. And I don't believe that there would be enough time to hammer out a final bill before the end of this session."

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