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Partisan Gamesmanship Prevents Senate From Leaving Town

Updated: 6:22 p.m.

Electoral politics appears to be interfering with the Senate’s ability to wrap up its business and hit the campaign trail.

In an eleventh-hour attempt to help a vulnerable incumbent – Montana Democrat Jon Tester – Senate Democrats say they will insist on a vote on Tester’s bill to ease restrictions on hunters and sportsmen before Congress adjourns for the elections.

Though Democrats said they were close to a deal to vote on dueling foreign policy measures offered by Republicans, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved to delay any votes until Friday at the earliest. He said he suspected Republicans of dragging their feet to make sure Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) would miss a debate tonight against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who has presented a strong challenge.

“It’s obvious to me what’s going on. I’ve been to a few of these rodeos,” Reid said on the floor this afternoon. “It’s obvious there’s a big stall taking place so one of the Senators who doesn’t want to be in a debate tonight won’t be in the debate. Well, he can’t use the Senate as an excuse. There will be no more votes today.”

Those watching the floor proceedings had no doubt Reid was making reference to Brown, though Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), disputed Reid’s version of events.

“The only thing delaying the votes is Sen. Reid objecting to his own consent request. Despite Democrat efforts to wait until the last possible minute to make a decision, Sen. Brown was able to make his flight,” Stewart said. “Nice attempt at spin, though.”

An agreement seems at hand on holding votes on both a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan and a resolution sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would express opposition to a containment strategy regarding Iranian nuclear weapons development. Graham’s measure has broad Democratic support, while Paul’s will face widespread opposition.

McConnell proposed a deal on the Senate floor to set up those votes before finishing up the only must-pass bill on the Senate’s agenda – a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through March. McConnell’s offer was essentially the same as one offered by Reid on Wednesday, but Democrats have decided to demand a vote on the Tester bill as well. Republicans object because they view that as a blatant effort to boost Tester’s electoral chances in Montana.

Despite the hope for a deal that would allow Members to wrap up by Friday, Reid has told Senators to be prepared to work through Sunday.

The sportsmen’s measure is a collection of bills on issues ranging from hunting and fishing to migratory bird conservation.

“If you flip to the dictionary and found the word ‘bipartisan,’ part of that definition would be the Tester sportsman’s package because it’s a Republican-Democratic bill,” Reid said. “It involves hunters and fishers and other sportsmen, off-road vehicles. It is really a good piece of legislation for a group of people who are totally unrecognized here, most of the time.”

Tester is facing a tight re-election contest against his challenger, GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg. A Tester victory would help Reid in his quest to maintain hold of the Majority Leader’s office. Reid and Tester also share interest in the recreation issues, since both hail from largely rural states.

Tester likely needs to win backing from some Montana Republicans who will split their tickets and back Mitt Romney for president. Romney could win the state by double digits.

Reid tried to pass the sportmen’s bill Wednesday by unanimous consent, but Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) objected to move, seeking to attach an amendment regarding a land exchange for a copper mine in Arizona. Tester called Kyl’s amendment an excuse. “I don’t think the story’s been settled yet,” he said.

Reid set a Sunday cloture vote on taking up the Tester bill unless an agreement is reached.

The sportsmen’s bill currently sits in line behind the continuing resolution, which must pass to avoid shutting down the government on Oct. 1. Reid took a series of procedural moves to set up a 1 a.m. Saturday cloture vote on that stopgap measure and block a deluge of amendments.

Kyle Trygstad contributed to this report.

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