In a letter to President Barack Obama obtained by CNN, three congressional sponsors of legislation to repeal the policy outlined the proposed agreement that would set contingencies based on completion of a military review of the matter already underway and subsequent final approval from the president and military leaders.
"We have developed a legislative proposal for consideration by the House and Senate that puts a process in place to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" once the working group has completed its review and you, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify that repeal can be achieved consistent with the military's standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention," said the letter sent Monday night that was signed by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pennsylvania.
Congressional Democratic sources said they hoped Gates himself would explicity support the compromise language because that could determine whether the measure will pass. Several Democrrats in the Senate and House have said they are reluctant to support any legislation that doesn't have complete backing of the Pentagon.
There was no formal comment from the Pentagon on a possible agreement.
"Given that Congress insists on addressing this issue this week, we are trying to gain a better understanding of the legislative proposals they will be considering," said a statement by Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.
Initial votes on the measure in the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House could occur as soon as Thursday, the sources said.
The proposed agreement calls for repeal to become final only after completion of the military review expected by the end of 2010, followed by the certification by Obama, Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, according to the sources.
The potential agreement emerged from a meeting Monday at the White House involving administration officials, gay rights groups and Pentagon officials, as well as talks on Capitol Hill involving White House lawyers, Pentagon officials and staff from the offices of influential House and Senate Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Levin, as well as Lieberman, who sits with the Democratic caucus, the sources said.
Gates has said he supports repealing the policy, but also has launched an extensive review of how to make the change that won't be finished until the end of the year.
When Levin recently said he would push for a measure now to repeal the law now, Gates opposed the idea, saying in a letter to the House Armed Services Committee chairman that he "strongly opposed" any changes before completion of the military review.
A senior U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the review process told CNN that the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain committed to taking the time to get views from troop.
That process is well underway, the official said, noting that a survey will go out shortly to about 70,000 troops and families to solicit their views. In addition, the official said, town hall meetings already have been held around the country and more are expected, while a website provides a place for troops to write in their views.
The official noted that military commanders have been telling the troops for weeks that the review process was intended to ensure their views were incorporated in contingency planning in the event that Congress changes the law.
According to the official, changing the process now before completing the review could be harmful because some troops believe the whole repeal initiative is an effort to appease supporters of repeal.
The military needs until the end of 2010 to figure out how to implement the repeal in terms of housing, medical and marriage benefits, as well as issues involving the reinstatement of gay soldiers previously discharged under the policy, the official said.
A major problem might be determining how to reconcile the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" with federal law that defines marriage as between a man a woman, the official added.
Supporters of repealing the policy have been pressuring congressional Democrats to act now, fearing the party will lose its House or Senate majority in November's mid-term election and be unable to pass the measure then.
Initial votes on the proposed measure could take place as soon as Thursday, the sources said. The House is expected to add the language as an amendment to a defense policy bill it will take up Thursday, while Levin's Senate Armed Services Committee also would discuss the provision on Thursday, according to the sources.
On Monday, a senior administration official said it was the understanding at the White House that "Congress is determined to act this week."
"We're learning more about this proposal now," the administration official said.