The world's greatest deliberative body (just ask any of its members) got hung up over what is called a "Sportsmen's Bill." The impasse came on the first day after the Thanksgiving holiday, which is, traditionally, a time when hunters like to be in the deer woods and duck marshes, which the bill supposedly would have expanded and made more accessible. This is one of those bills that is said to "enjoy wide, bipartisan support."

Except ... well, it doesn't.

Republicans object – and stalled passage of the bill – on procedural grounds, arguing that it violates Senate rules on spending. You do not have to be a sportsman to find it reassuring that the Senate actually has rules on spending and that some members are occasionally inclined to follow them, even if out of pique.

Other objections, mainly from environmentalists, are more interesting and entertaining. One provision of the bill would lift a ban on the importation of polar bear trophies taken from animals killed before 2008. That date is significant because the animal was then declared an endangered species. This provision covers trophies from 41 animals and the parts include something called a baculum. That would be ... a penis bone.

The animals were legally taken and it seems unfair to deprive a hunters of such unique and interesting trophies. But environmental groups worry about the "precedent."

There is also the matter of a provision that would prohibit the EPA from regulating the metals – chiefly lead – used in the making of sporting ammunition. Duck hunters have long been required to use "non-toxic shot," chiefly steel, after it became evident that waterfowl were eating a lot of lead shot that was accumulating in the shallow waters of popular duck marshes. The birds were dying of lead poisoning. A steel shot requirement was imposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service – an agency sportsmen feel they can deal with – and it has largely fixed the problem.

Hunters and firearms enthusiasts worry that the EPA – an agency that likes to think of its powers as pretty much limitless and that is staffed by zealots – might be tempted to ban the use of lead in all sporting ammunition. The justification, supported by people like Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry, is that lead exposure results in some 20 million bird deaths a year.

This sounds pretty awful until you recall that house cats kill 500 million – and maybe a billion – birds a year.

Nobody in Washington, however, is likely to go after house cats. Even the EPA is not that bold.

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