WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) moved this week to hold a noncontroversial flood insurance bill hostage until the Senate agrees that life begins at fertilization.
The bill, which would financially boost the National Flood Insurance Program on the cusp of hurricane season, had been expected to pass easily in the Senate. But since Paul on Monday offered an unrelated "fetal personhood" amendment, which would give legal protections to fetuses from the moment of fertilization, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is threatening to halt progress on the legislation.
"I'm told last night that one of our Republican senators wants to offer an amendment -- listen to this one -- wants to offer an amendment on when life begins," Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "I am not going to put up with that on flood insurance. I can be condemned by outside sources; my friends can say, 'Let them have a vote on it.' There will not be a vote on that on flood insurance. We'll either do flood insurance with the amendments that deal with flood insurance, or we won't do it. We'll have an extension."
Reid has allowed Republicans to attach unrelated amendments to other important bills in the past few months. Most notably, he let the Senate vote on a contraception-related amendment, proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), to a transportation bill. But Reid called Paul's measure "ridiculous" and "outlandish," and asked Republicans to deal with him on "their side of the aisle."
Paul told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he is "just trying to get a vote for people who elected me."
"Can you believe that they're exasperated with me?" he said, responding to criticism of his attempt to attach the unrelated amendment. "If [Reid will] give me a freestanding vote, I'll take a freestanding vote any time."
The highly controversial concept of fetal personhood raised by Paul's amendment could affect the legality of abortion, some forms of birth control, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization.
EMILY's List, an advocacy group dedicated to electing Democratic women to Congress, took the opportunity to denounce Paul and his Republican colleagues for "their obsession with rolling the clock back on women."
"Seems like Republicans in Congress can't make it a week without trying to take away women's rights," said EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock to The Huffington Post. "But holding up flood insurance at the start of hurricane season, with at least two major American cities already suffering, is a brand-new low."
This story has been updated with a response from Sen. Rand Paul to the criticism of his amendment.