WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan bill to open up more public lands to hunters and fishermen and block more regulation of their equipment was abruptly killed in the Senate on Thursday, after senators from both parties tried to use amendments as the platform for a renewed gun-control debate.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act failed to receive the necessary 60 votes to move toward final consideration Thursday, effectively killing the bill, which days earlier had had broad bipartisan support.
No Republicans – who made up the majority of the bill’s co-sponsors and had voted overwhelmingly in favor on a procedural vote for the bill Monday – voted to proceed with the bill Thursday, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., went ahead with the vote before an agreement on amendments could be reached.
Both parties had planned to submit amendments for debate that dealt with gun control, a bitter topic that’s failed to get traction in either house of Congress this year.
Reid blocked amendments through a procedural maneuver Wednesday but said he would be open to negotiating a set list of amendments from both sides.
In a speech immediately after the legislation went down by 41-56, Reid chastised Senate Republicans for what he called a nearly unprecedented self-filibuster by refusing to submit a list of amendments to debate along with Democratic amendments.
“They are bringing to this body a new definition of what it means to sponsor legislation,” Reid said. “Who of the people that has gone before us in this body would ever vote to filibuster their own bill?”
Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who co-sponsored the bill, which included his measure on electronic duck stamps, had equally harsh words for Reid, who he said was “afraid” to have an open amendments process.
“We’ve never operated like that,” Wicker said of Reid’s attempt to get an agreement on which amendments would be open to debate. “That is a new normal that Harry Reid is trying to sell as being a Senate tradition.”
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act was sponsored by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, along with another 25 Republicans and 18 Democrats.
A procedural motion to move ahead with the bill was approved Monday by 82-12, but controversy arose after senators on both sides of the aisle sought to add controversial amendments before final passage.
A total of 81 amendments were submitted on the bill, 55 by Republicans and 26 by Democrats.
Liberal Democrats, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, both of Connecticut, moved to add amendments that would have restricted gun ownership for people with temporary or permanent restraining orders against them.
Republicans were prepared to offer counter-amendments that would have allowed guns on land controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. Another amendment, submitted by Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, would have eased restrictions on gun purchases by veterans deemed mentally ill.
Amendments were due to be filed by 1 p.m. Thursday, but a vote to move toward final consideration was called early. Lacking the amendments to debate, the bill died without Republican support.
Among the sponsors of the bill, including Hagan, are several Democrats who face tough re-election campaigns in red states, including Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
“We should be allowing amendments on anything related to the bill _ in this case sport hunting and fishing,” Begich said in a statement. “But once again some senators appear more interested in scoring political points than passing important policy.”
Murkowski, the Republican co-author of the bill, had called for an open amendment process on the Senate floor Wednesday, and she voted Thursday against moving ahead.
Hagan said in a statement that she was “disappointed” with Thursday’s outcome but promised to continue to work with Murkowski on finding new sportsmen’s legislation.
“I believe the Senate should have considered sportsmen-related amendments, including those dealing with gun issues important to sportsmen and women,” Hagan said.