Staring at the possibility of a battle over gun control and other thorny issues he didn’t want to deal with, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used parliamentary tactics to block out all amendments on a bill to expand hunting and fishing access on federal land, putting the brakes on the largely noncontroversial legislation.
The Nevada Democrat said Republicans were moving to undermine the bill by offering amendments to repeal D.C.’s gun control laws, expand the sale of some firearms across state lines, and effectively block the Senate from passing new gun controls.
He said he had to block out all amendments in order to keep the debate focused.
“They want amendments because they want to kill the bill, like they’ve tried to kill everything in the last six years,” he said.
“It’s an astonishing display of what a Majority Leader has done to muzzle an entire legislative body, both parties,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.
A Washington Times analysis this week found that Mr. Reid has been responsible for a third of all amendments proposed in 2014 on the floor of the 100-member chamber — a measure of how much he has dictated the rules for debate. The analysis also found that a single House Democratic lawmaker has been granted votes on more of her amendments than the entire Senate GOP.
With Mr. Reid’s latest blockade, the entire sportsmen’s bill is now in danger. Republicans have regularly filibustered bills they didn’t get a chance to amend.
Many of the amendments filed by members of both parties this week deal with conservation and federal land management. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, introduced one that would limit federal ownership of land to no more than 50 percent of a state’s area as disputes between the government and western ranchers have increasingly come to a head in recent months.
But the gun issue was grabbing the most attention.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, filed the repeal of the District’s gun laws; Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, sponsored the measure that would effectively block the Senate from passing new gun controls without a two-thirds vote; and Mr. Cruz sponsored the amendment to allow some firearms sales across state lines. Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, filed another that would limit the ability to deny veterans access to guns because of mental health issues.
To counter the Republican moves on guns, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, filed one to impose stiffer penalties on straw purchasers and illegal gun traffickers.
But a larger fight over guns could have forced some of Mr. Reid’s more vulnerable members to vote with Republicans on the measures or risk stirring up opposition among Second Amendment advocates in their states.
Democrats had hoped the sportsmen’s bill, which has bipartisan support, would be an easy win for Sen. Kay Hagan, the chief sponsor and North Carolina Democrat, who is facing a tough re-election bid this year.
But the bill is even splitting Democrats.