• Yipes! It’s Congress on the move
    April 12,2013
     

    Wow, there’s a lot going on in Washington! Budgets are flying all over the place. The Senate might actually start voting on a gun bill Thursday. And immigration reform has now gotten so far that the House of Representatives has its own bipartisan Gang of Eight working on it.

    Personally, I think they just wanted to have a gang.

    “It’s a good day for guns and immigration, and who knows what tomorrow may bring,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate bipartisan Gang of Eight on immigration reform. It’s like a little legislative West Side Story in Congress these days, minus the dancing.

    But the point is that there’s movement. It was only days ago that things were so slow that we were forced to devote our serious thinking time to the reports from South America that overgrown white ferrets are being sold to people as toy poodles. This is something I believe we can rally against in a bipartisan manner.

    First off the block came a gun agreement, announced Wednesday by two conservative senators who mentioned repeatedly that they were themselves proud weapons owners. This is, of course, the rule for these kinds of events. If they really do have a full-fledged debate, somebody is for sure going to leap up and yell: “I have four bazookas!”

    Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., held a news conference to describe their plan to close loopholes in gun purchase background checks. The negotiations actually involved a slightly larger number of people, including Schumer. But, according to a report in Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, Toomey refused to speak on the same podium with the National Rifle Association nemesis.

    “Toomey and Manchin did great work on this. They belonged out front. My job was to work behind the scenes. I’m perfectly happy,” said Schumer, who has been laboring on this issue for about 9 million years. It isn’t every day you see the senator from New York leap out of the way of a major televised news conference. Kudos.

    If the agreement as described actually passes, it would mean a real improvement — expanding background checks so people who buy guns on the Internet or at gun shows are screened for criminal records and serious mental illness.

    You may remember Manchin as the guy who seemed, after the Newtown massacre, to be calling for an assault weapons ban, then scurried away. Also, he was the one who ran a campaign ad showing him plugging a bullet through the heart of a piece of climate change legislation. Also, he still won’t say whether he voted for Barack Obama last year. But now we ought to give him a hand — quickly, before he breaks our hearts.

    Which might happen any moment. During their news conference, Manchin and Toomey said their bill could be a step toward new rules on carrying concealed weapons, in which a permit from the state with the most lax gun laws trumps the stricter laws in, say, Times Square. If an amendment like that gets stuck on the bill in the Senate, Schumer acknowledged, “the bad it would do would equalize the good.”

    But that’s several endless stretches of procedural confusion away. First, there’s got to be a vote on whether to take up gun legislation in the Senate at all. Miraculously, a bunch of Republican senators have announced they do not want to simply squash any consideration of the matter by staging a filibuster.

    “No one really expected that we wouldn’t get to a vote on this. There’s going to be a debate on this. Which is a good thing,” said Sen. James Risch of Idaho on CBS. He was actually one of the senators vowing to stop a debate, but he’s apparently sort of evolving.

    Did I mention that Risch is from Idaho? The governor of Idaho is Butch Otter. He has nothing to do with this discussion. I just like writing “Gov. Butch Otter” as often as possible.

    This is going to be crunchtime, citizens. Do you root for the bipartisan gun bill or worry about the National Rifle Association turning it into something that makes the situation worse?

    Also, would you feel more confident about immigration reform’s chances if the House had a Gang of 12?

    As if we didn’t have enough on our plates, this week’s Times Magazine has a story by Jonathan Van Meter announcing that former Rep. Anthony Weiner is seriously thinking about running for mayor of New York City. This year!

    That one I’m pretty confident we can handle. The citizens of New York just have to decide whether to forgive an elected official who tweeted pictures of his crotch to women he had never actually met. We’ve had bigger challenges. Maybe we can form a committee.



    Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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