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Will the spending bill include a background check measure? It's still unclear

Lawmakers in Congress are deciding Tuesday what to do about ...

Posted: Mar 20, 2018 4:32 PM
Updated: Mar 20, 2018 4:32 PM

Lawmakers in Congress are deciding Tuesday what to do about a background check bill that has bipartisan support but has been stuck in limbo for weeks in the Senate, just hours after another school shooting is in the national spotlight.

Negotiations continued behind the scenes on whether to include a bill to incentivize reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System -- known around Capitol Hill as "Fix NICS" -- in a massive, must-pass spending bill that needs approval by Friday night to avert another government shutdown.

"I have not heard confirmation but I certainly hope so," said Sen. John Cornyn, the lead Republican on the bill, when asked if Fix NICS will be folded into the spending measure.

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In December, the US House of Representatives passed a similar bill, which encourages better enforcement of the NICS. It was paired with other legislation that was widely supported by Republicans and would loosen concealed-carry laws.

But a Senate version, which doesn't include the concealed-carry provision, has been stalled for weeks, even after a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Florida last month. While the bill has more than 70 cosponsors and was co-introduced by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrats have been pushing for a process that would open up the bill to debate and possibly more gun-related amendments.

Republicans have refused to hold a standalone vote, and both sides are pointing fingers at each other for the standstill.

Pressure is now mounting by some in both parties to tack Fix NICS onto the spending bill, but the idea is also facing opposition.

Murphy, the lead Democrat on the bill, predicted Democratic leadership won't cut a deal that has Fix NICS without any other gun measures. "I think there is broad-based opposition in the Democratic caucus to Fix NICS being buried in the budget without any other reforms," he said.

Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, who's not a cosponsor on the bill, said it's a matter that should be debated separately.

"I think they're making a big mistake if they start tacking on extraneous issues to the budget," he said. "We have enough trouble doing a budget by itself. We haven't had one since Moses walked the earth. It's embarrassing."

Another potential hurdle is that House Republicans would also have to agree to include Fix NICS in the spending bill, since it must first be passed by the House.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a news conference Tuesday morning that he'd like to get Fix NICS done, but when asked if his GOP caucus will support it without the loosened concealed-carry laws that accompanied it in December, Ryan said that was part of the negotiations.

"That's something we're discussing with our friends on the other side," Ryan said.

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