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Senators block election-year bill aiding hunters

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By ALAN FRAM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans and liberal Democrats on Thursday derailed a Senate bill to help hunters and potentially aid Democratic senators seeking re-election in GOP-leaning states. It's the latest bipartisan measure to fall victim to election-year maneuvering.

The broadly popular legislation would have opened more federal lands to hunters and other sportsmen, increased funds for shooting ranges and blocked government curbs on bullets and fishing gear containing lead. It also would have renewed some conservation programs.

But senators voted 56-41 against ending debate on the bill as the measure became enmeshed in gun politics. Supporters fell 19 votes short of the 60 needed to move to a final vote, effectively derailing it.

All 45 Republicans voted against moving ahead on the legislation - enough to block the bill - as did 11 Democrats.

In May, a bipartisan bill promoting energy efficiency crumbled after Republicans demanded votes on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline and proposed Obama administration restrictions on greenhouse gas pollution from coal-fired power plants. That same month, a bipartisan effort to renew more than 50 expired tax breaks also died amid a dispute over amendments.

Thursday's collapse of the sportsmen's bill came after Republicans complained that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had blocked them from offering amendments, including some expanding gun rights.

Democratic opponents said they wanted to add new gun curbs. Opposition to the bill also came from groups including the Humane Society of the United States and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization.

The measure was co-sponsored by 26 Republicans, 18 Democrats and one independent, an unusual show of bipartisanship at a time of sharp polarization between the two parties. The chief sponsors were Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and it had strong backing from groups including the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association.

The bill's demise was telegraphed Wednesday after Reid blocked all amendments, saying Republicans were refusing to narrow theirs down to a manageable number in an effort to kill the legislation.

"They're so tangled up with the tea party here, the tea party there, the people running for president," Reid said after Thursday's vote. "So what do they do? They block everything."

The National Rifle Association had said little about the bill whose lead Democratic author, Hagan, has an "F'' rating from the group. But in a written statement Thursday, the NRA blamed "Sen. Harry Reid's political agenda" for the measure's downfall.

"By refusing to allow a reasonable amendment process, Sen. Reid effectively killed this legislation - a bill with substantive measures that would have enriched America's hunting and sporting heritage," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's legislative arm.

Hagan and several other Democratic co-sponsors in competitive re-election races were hoping the bill might enhance their appeal to pro-gun voters. Those races will be crucial in determining which party controls the Senate next year.

Reid may have helped them by blocking votes on amendments. His move meant senators didn't have to vote on GOP proposals to expand gun rights, such as carrying firearms into post offices, votes that could have been difficult for Democrats in states with many gun owners.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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