After a brief respite, culture war issues appear to be making a comeback in the Senate.
This week pitted Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) against Senate Democratic leaders, as Paul pushed for a vote on an amendment to a flood insurance bill that would have ruled that life begins at conception.
The measure passed 74-19 Friday without a vote on Paul’s proposal. It was part of a broader package that included a transportation bill and a student loan measure.
Democratic leaders argued that the amendment had nothing to do with the bill and did not belong in the debate. They also believed it’s bad politics.
Earlier this week in committee, Paul sought in to offer amendments to a District of Columbia budget autonomy bill that would have rolled back some of D.C.’s gun laws and another proposal to make permanent a ban on city funding for abortion. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) canceled the markup, in part, because some of the proposals were likely to pass.
Paul “is on the verge of thrusting an issue — that is bad politically — to the forefront when it’s the last thing in the world the Republicans want to talk about,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide about the personhood amendment, adding that the move could hurt GOP favorability with women.
Social issues have cropped up from time to time this year as Congressional leaders have sought to position their parties ahead of the November elections. This has typically resulted in standoffs, gumming up the legislative works as Republicans and Democrats seek to paint each other in an unfavorable light with voters.
In order to help ensure speedy passage of the flood insurance bill and fend off amendments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) packaged it with a deal on the transportation bill and a compromise measure to prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling.
Reid had also threatened to keep the Senate in session until the package — which was a conference report and could not be amended — was passed.
“People can hold things up, but they can’t hold things up forever,” Reid warned Thursday, with a nod to the fact the Senators were eager to get back to their states for the July Fourth recess.
“There is a lot of disappointment in many different areas,” Reid said, acknowledging that some Senators did not get a chance to get a vote on their amendments, including Paul and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).
Pryor had been leading a bipartisan effort to offer an amendment that would strike a provision to require Americans who live in areas protected by levees and dams to buy flood insurance.
Earlier in the week, Senate Democratic aides said they hoped Paul would back down, particularly because of what happened the last time there was a showdown on a social issue.