WASHINGTON - An amendment to expand background check requirements to include most commercial sales failed Wednesday in the Senate, a significant setback to gun legislation developed in response to the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.
The measure, negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., fell short of the 60 votes that it needed to be adopted under an agreement between the Senate's leaders.
The defeat came despite intensive lobbying by Manchin and Toomey and a four-month campaign for stricter gun laws by the White House and activists, including family members of Newtown victims.
Manchin speaking to a near-empty chamber before the vote, criticized what he called a misinformation campaign from opponents, including the National Rifle Association, the nation's main gun lobby.
"I remember when the NRA used to feel a lot different about background checks, and it wasn't all that long ago," he said, calling their statement against his plan "a lie." Manchin, who owns four guns and likes to hunt, had an "A" rating from the organization.
"I've never seen a perfect bill. I'm sure we can improve on this," he said, but he added, "We made sure that the culture that we grew up with is protected and enhanced upon."
The vote jeopardizes the larger gun package, which also includes measures to increase penalties for gun traffickers and spending on school safety measures. The existing bill includes a more stringent background check plan that Manchin and others have said they do not support.
Senate leaders have indicated, though, that they may revive the gun bill in the future. Aides believe that the failed vote on a proposal that polls show has overwhelming public support could spark renewed attention on the issue.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was voting his conscience because, if tragedy were to strike again, "I would have trouble living with myself as a senator, as a husband, a father or grandfather and friend, knowing that I didn't do everything in my power to prevent that incident."
Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Baltimore on Tuesday, said: "There's one thing I know. The public has changed, the nation has changed. And whether it's tomorrow or the next month or next year, we are eventually going to reflect the view of the American public in the laws that we pass."