A bipartisan proposal to expand hunting and fishing rights on federal lands stalled in the U.S. Senate Thursday, after party leaders couldn't agree whether to hold votes on amendments to expand and roll back gun rights.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen Act would make it easier to hunt and fish on some federal lands, allow the construction of more public shooting ranges at national parks and wildlife refuges and make it easier to purchase federal permits to hunt ducks, geese and other waterfowl. The measure is cosponsored by 46 senators -- including 26 Republicans, making it one of the most popular bills debated in the fractured Senate this year.
But several of those cosponsors voted against proceeding to final passage of the bill Thursday. Just 41 senators agreed to proceed to final passage of the measure, far short of the 60 needed to advance legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) blasted those senators who had backed the bill but then voted against proceeding. "They are bringing to this body a new definition of what it manes to sponsor legislation," he said, adding later that the development was "Nothing new."
The rather innocuous election-year proposal to expand hunting and fishing rights stalled because it sparked the first big fight over gun control in Washington in more than a year. After debate on the bill began Monday, senators in both parties wanted to introduce several amendments, including plans to stiffen penalties for illegal straw purchasers, to overturn the District of Columbia’s ban on large-capacity magazines and assault weapons and to allow gun owners to carry firearms into post offices and other federal sites.
“I want this debate. I want an opportunity to raise important issues about gun violence and gun safety in America,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday.
But Reid took procedural steps Wednesday to advance the bill and essentially make it nearly impossible to add any amendments on any subject. The move upset Republicans, who have spent most of this year blasting Reid for not allowing up-or-down votes on amendments proposed by members of either party.
“As just about everyone acknowledges at this point, the Democrat-run Senate has become the place where good ideas go to die," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday morning. "The Democrat leadership won’t even listen to its own members anymore."
Thursday's vote was a setback for Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), the measure's lead sponsor, who had worked with members of both parties to merge together about a dozen proposals to expand hunting and fishing rights. Hagan and about a half dozen other Democrats facing difficult reelection this year have been given valuable floor time for legislative priorities designed to become campaign fodder — regardless of whether they ultimately pass.
Hagan said she was "disappointed" that Democrats and Republicans couldn't agree to hold votes on the gun-related amendments. "We should not let partisan politics get in the way of a good bill that already has bipartisan support," she added as she failed to convince colleagues to agree to vote on the bill as written.