Whose Vote Is It Anyway?


Brooks Cain

On Wednesday, the United States Senate failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey bill. A bipartisan compromise, this bill expanded required background checks to every gun purchase except for transactions between family members and friends. It actually received 54 “for” votes and 46 “against” votes, and one of the “against” votes was by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) for procedural reasons [1].  Even more remarkably, a recent CNN/ORC poll found that 86% of the American public supported expanding background checks for gun sales [2]. These statistics beg the question: how did this bill not pass? If 55 Senators were behind Manchin-Toomey and nearly 9 out of 10 Americans supported it, how come anyone can buy a weapon at a gun show without submitting to a background check? Two forces prevented this bill from becoming law. First, unwieldy Senate rules in a polarized legislative body. Secondly, the NRA held some of the Senators, pun intended, at gunpoint.

The Senate is slightly more efficient than the Department of Motor Vehicles, and about as effective as mowing your lawn with barber shears. As a result, Sen. Reid faces some of the toughest decisions in the country. He had two options to pass this amendment. He could have decided to try and invoke cloture, a process that takes 60 votes, but can be time-consuming. Instead, the option he decided to take still required the bill to get 60 votes, but only on the final vote. Had he only required a 51 vote majority, gun advocates could have bogged down the bill with amendments that violated its initial spirit. By having rules like this, the Senate manages to actually have a bipartisan majority of Senators agree on an issue, a seemingly impossible feat, yet still be unable to pass the measure. To put the difficulty of this in perspective, think of this. President Obama barely received 51 percent of the nation’s votes in the past election. Imagine if a candidate, in order to win, was required to receive 60% of the vote. Requiring the Senate to marshal 60 votes dooms our legislative body’s potential before it even begins. The unreasonable Senate procedural rules made passage of this bill unlikely from the start, but the NRA proved to be the proverbial kill shot.

The National Rifle Association decides who to support by measuring how gun-friendly each politician is. They do this by “scoring” certain votes. The NRA will then target people with the lowest scores in the next election style. When the Manchin-Toomey bill was introduced, the NRA only publicly opposed it. The bill needed the necessary votes to be able to be debated. The NRA did not score the introductory vote, and it received 68 votes. When the NRA decided to score Wednesday’s vote, the situation changed dramatically. 13 Senators (12 of them Republican) were swayed by the NRA’s decision and voted against the bill [3]. Sen. Manchin (D-WV) pointed to the NRA as the main culprit behind the failure of his bill saying, “If they hadn’t scored it, we’d have gotten 70 votes” [3].

86% of the public agreed with this bill, and 68 Senators initially supported it. The antiquated Senate rules doomed most efforts to pass this bill from the beginning, but the bill seemed to have broad enough support to have a chance. Once the NRA decided to put a bull’s eye on anyone’s back who voted for the bill though, it had a snowball’s chance in hell of passing. Support for expanded background checks for gun purchases was as close to unanimous as issues get in this country. Only one conclusion can be drawn from this past Wednesday. The Senate was listening to the voice of Wayne LaPierre instead of the voice of the American people.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/04/17/the-gun-amendments-need-60-votes-to-pass-but-why/
2] http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/17/public-opinion-gets-trumped-in-gun-control-defeat/
[3] http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/04/18/manchin-describes-the-effect-of-an-nra-score/

[Image Credit: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/climbed-nra-ranks-article-1.1225206]