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Gun Groups Battle Over Sportsmen’s Legislation

Legislation would make more federal land available for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities

Just when Senate Democrats, the White House and the National Rifle Association finally found legislation they could agree on, opposition from conservatives and a rival gun rights group is delaying passage of a proposal to give hunters and fishermen more access to federal land.

With help from the NRA, which is seldom on the losing side of a lobbying battle, leaders of both parties will try again next week to overcome a right-wing rebellion against Montana Democrat Jon Tester’s bill.

The 4 million-member NRA is working behind the scenes to counter opposition from Gun Owners of America, which contends the legislation would lead to the seizure of private property for fish habitat conservation projects.

The supporters are also trying to rally opposition to a procedural roadblock threatened by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who says the bill would breach the spending caps in the 2011 debt limit law (PL 112-25) by authorizing $142 million in spending during the next 10 years.

Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., has scheduled time on Nov. 26 for Sessions to formally raise a budget point of order against the bill. Sixty votes would be needed to push the bill over that hurdle and clear the way for a vote on passage. The measure survived two cloture votes last week, with its supporters mustering 92 votes on the first and 84 on the second.

Sessions also argues that a provision championed by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., that would authorize the Interior secretary to increase the $15 cost of the federal stamp sold to duck hunters would usurp the taxing authority of Congress, and that it makes the bill a revenue measure that must originate in the House.

Sessions and other conservative GOP senators are demanding that Reid allow them to offer amendments including spending cuts. Reid blocked amendments before a Nov. 15 vote to limit debate on the legislation.

The bill would make more federal land available for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities and ease restrictions on bowhunters. New conservation programs would be created for fish and migratory birds, while several existing programs would be extended. The Obama administration endorsed the measure last week in a Statement of Administration Policy.

NRA spokesman Chris W. Cox said the organization strongly supports the bill as an important step toward preserving gun rights and the nation’s hunting heritage. “S 3525 is an important bill that will help protect these rights for generations to come,” he said.

Cox touted another provision of the bill that would cancel an Environmental Protection Agency requirement that ammunition-makers limit their use of lead and other toxic materials. “This bill protects the use of traditional ammunition for hunting and shooting from those who would seek to ban it,” he said.

But Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said the bill would encourage seizure of private land when owners decline to sell for conservation projects backed by the National Fish Habitat Board that the bill would create.

Should the bill win Senate passage, Gun Owners of America is making plans to block it in the House, where Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has sponsored a narrower bill (HR 4089) that would nullify the EPA ammunition ban. A senior Senate Democratic aide said party leaders hope to defeat Session’s point of order, win Senate passage and cut a bicameral deal that would combine parts of the Tester and Miller bills.

Correction: This article incorrectly reported Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., was the leading proponent of a provision that would allow the Interior secretary to increase the cost of federal duck stamps.

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