The Senate yesterday passed a bill to shield gun dealers and manufacturers from lawsuits that try to hold them liable for the criminal misuse of firearms, a victory for gun-rights advocates who said lawsuits are threatening the viability of gun industry.
In addition, a massive $286.4 billion transportation bill passed the House yesterday, 412-8, the Senate, 91-4, and is expected to be signed into law by President Bush early next week.
The gun bill passed, 65-32, with support of most Republicans and a third of the Democratic caucus a year after Democrats successfully blocked a vote on similar legislation. It passed the House last year and will be reconsidered by that chamber in September.
“This bill says go after the criminal, don’t go after the law-abiding gun manufacturer or the law-abiding gun seller,” said bill sponsor Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and a former board member for the National Rifle Association.
Democratic opponents of the gun bill unsuccessfully tried to kill it by offering several “poison-pill” amendments — to extend the assault-weapons ban, require trigger locks on handguns, and force dealers at gun shows to conduct criminal-background checks on all purchasers — making the bill unpalatable to both sides. The strategy worked last year.
“No state is going as far as this bill does; no state goes as far as barring all claims, and I know the opponents are saying we don’t bar all cases, but they do bar negligence cases,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, who led the charge against it.
Mr. Craig, however, said the measure is not “a gun industry immunity bill” as it has been called because it does not protect firearms or ammunition manufacturers, sellers or trade associations from any other lawsuits where such entities have broken federal laws regulating the production, sales and distribution of guns.
The highway bill, which runs 1,681 pages, would fund highway construction projects, including $27.6 million to add a westbound lane to Interstate 66 inside the Beltway, $36.6 million for improvements to the interchange of I-66 and Route 29 in Gainesville, and funding for an extension of the Metro to Dulles Airport.
“When I talk to Northern Virginians, concerns about traffic congestion are always at the top of their lists,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican. “Passage of the highway bill will help address the region’s need for better highways and mass transit options.”
The White House yesterday said it wouldn’t follow through on a threat to veto the legislation for surpassing the price tag it wanted. It exceeds that number by $2.5 billion.
“We haven’t seen the final product, but the president intends to sign it,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
The highway bill was the result of hours of late-night deal-making Thursday, especially on the House side. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, Alaska Republican, said a last-minute attempt by the Senate on Thursday night to use the bill to reopen a closed air base in Montana nearly scuttled months of difficult negotiations.
The Senate, however, agreed to remove the base-closing amendment and the bill passed the House yesterday 412-8.
Some conservatives, however, have complained that it is bloated with nearly 6,000 “earmarks” for pet projects in the districts of nearly every House member that has greatly increased the cost.
“This is the best example of the worst of politics in Washington,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who was among the eight members of his party who voted against the bill. “There’s so much garbage in that bill, and people wonder why taxpayers don’t trust us.”