Manchin, Toomey close to deal on "expanded" background checks; Update: Deal reached

“Expanded” in this case is … a term of art, as you’ll see shortly.  As Harry Reid tries to find the votes to have a vote on his gun-control package in the Senate this week or next, two key players say they are close to an agreement on the central piece of the bill. Joe Manchin (D-WV) says that he and Pat Toomey (R-PA) will have a proposal on expanding background checks for gun sales at shows and on the Internet. The package will contain a requirement by the sellers to keep records of all background checks, but apparently not a federal registry.

CBS is selling this as a major milestone:

As the Senate gears up for the first fight over new gun legislation in two decades, Republicans do not appear to have the votes they need to execute a planned filibuster on Thursday and a bipartisan breakthrough is likely, according to one Democrat.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, claims he is close to a deal with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey on a plan to expand background checks to cover firearm purchases made at gun shows and online, a measure that 90 percent of Americans say they support. Under the proposed law, gun sellers would be required to keep records of those checks to help police track gun crimes.

Is this a major step forward for gun-control legislation, though? Roll Call also reported this morning on the effort, which actually walks back Reid’s current bill by eliminating the requirement for background checks on private sales and transfers:

The plan is expected to stop short of language currently in the bill that would require background checks on nearly all gun sales, including between private parties. Instead, Toomey aides said, the proposal would require background checks for private sales at gun shows and on the Internet, two areas that are currently exempt.

Nevertheless, support for the plan by Toomey, a reliable conservative with a top rating from the National Rifle Association, would be a major victory for Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama, who have stepped up their calls in recent days to ensure that criminals and the mentally ill do not have easy access to guns.

One quick note about Internet sales. While current law technically doesn’t require a background check for sales over the Internet, it does require a federally-licensed firearms dealer to broker the sale — and that means a background check for the purchaser.  At least to my understanding, all this changes is that the background check will be explicitly required.  That’s also been my understanding about gun-show sales, although I believe that area is a little grayer.

In a sense, a Manchin-Toomey proposal along these lines would kneecap the current push from Senate Democrats, and merely firm up the status quo.  Maybe that’s why the filibuster threat seems to be fading:

Democrats are confident they have the votes to bring gun control legislation to the Senate floor this week. But getting the votes to pass the bill later this month will be much harder.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not yet conducted a formal whip count, but at least eight Republican senators have said they will not attempt to block an effort to bring up the measure, a senior Democratic aide said.

Fifty-five senators caucus with the Democrats, and Reid acknowledged he might lose a few votes on his side of the aisle. During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Reid declined to make any bold predictions. Asked if he had the votes, Reid responded, “I don’t know.”

Behind the scenes, Reid and his lieutenants are convinced they have the 60 votes necessary to start the debate on the floor.

“He’s always been confident that he can get 60 votes,” the aide said.

At this point, Republicans may figure they won’t lose much in a floor vote anyway, so why take a big political hit in a filibuster?  Let Democrats go on record voting for gun control and assault-weapons bans, as long as the background-check “expansion” that ends up passing doesn’t intrude on private sales and transfers, and doesn’t result in gun registries.

Update: The Washington Post reports that the deal has been reached — and that it falls short of the current demand from the White House:

A bipartisan group of senators has struck a deal to expand gun background checks to all commercial sales — whether at gun shows, via the Internet or in any circumstance involving paid advertising, according to Senate aides familiar with the talks.

The proposed agreement would be more stringent than current law, which requires checks only when purchases are made through a licensed dealer, but less than originally sought by President Obama and congressional Democrats, who were seeking to expand background checks to nearly every kind of sale.

The agreement should secure enough bipartisan support for the Senate to proceed to debate on an overarching bill that would expand background checks, make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time and bolster federal funding for school security plans. Senate Democratic leaders have said they will permit senators of both parties to introduce amendments to the measure.

That’s still pretty weak tea from where Democrats started.

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