A bipartisan bill that would have opened up more public lands for hunting and fishing got trapped in partisan muck on Thursday as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lost Republican support for the bill by not allowing it to be amended, which has become a pattern for Reid.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act was sponsored by 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats and had the support of the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, the American Sportfishing Association, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, and Trout Unlimited.
Because Reid refused to allow amendments, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the prime sponsors of the bill, voted to allow it be filibustered, which basically killed it. Ten Senate Democrats also vote for filibuster. Sen. Mark Begich joined Reid and other Democrats to cut off debate for the amendments and to bring it to the floor, knowing that it would be killed.
“Welcome to Camp Gridlock – where good legislation goes to die,” Robert Dillon, a Murkowski spokesperson said.
Shortly after he voted to cut off the amendments, Begich sent out a press release, saying that “While some other senators try to avoid ‘tough’ votes, I’ve made it clear that I am not afraid to take votes. We should be allowing amendments on anything related to the bill — in this case sport hunting and fishing. But once again some senators appear more interested in scoring political points than passing important policy.”
Controversial amendments that might not be related to the bill but that would require such “tough votes” were offered by both sides. Liberal Democrats offered amendments to restrict gun control. Republicans offered amendments to expand it, including an amendment to allow guns on Army Corp of Engineers land and to ease restrictions on gun ownership by veterans who are diagnosed with a mental illness.
As he often does, Reid blamed Republicans for killing the bill by offering the amendments.
Amendments can be politically perilous, particularly on ones dealing with hot-button issues like gun control. However, they’re also a part of the process—a 2003 energy bill, for instance, had more than 380 amendments. But it’s a process that Reid has decided to nearly completely cut off. He’s apparently decided that it’s better to protect vulnerable Democrats from those tough votes than to allow open debate.
But there are also risks associated with being too careful.
First, Begich is one of a number of freshman Democrats who hasn’t gotten a single amendment passed during his time in the Senate. There are other ways to get thing done, but it’s a talking point that has been pushed by Republicans and will likely be used against him in the upcoming race.
Secondly, it’s a red state, and as the race chugs along, and the complicated workings in D.C. are spotlighted, it’s doubtful that many in the state will continue to believe that the problems in D.C. rest on the shoulders of Republicans, who are in the minority in the Senate
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