Back from the Dead: Food Safety Bill Passes Senate in Unexpected Last-Minute Move

By Dschabner

Dec 19, 2010 8:29pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

In an unexpected move, the Senate today passed a sweeping food safety bill by unanimous consent, sending the bill back for a vote in the House before it will move on to President Obama’s desk.

“Very very important for our country,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this evening on the Senate floor. “Perfect legislation? No. But a broad broad step in the right direction. We haven’t done anything in this regard for more than a hundred years for our country. With all the changes in processing food, it’s so very important. I’ve spoken to the Speaker tonight and this will pass the House when they come back Monday night or Tuesday.”

The surprising development is only the latest bizarre twist for the measure. Just a few days ago the food safety bill was seen as dead on Capitol Hill, but the Senate this weekend modified it to resolve a revenue technicality and managed to pass it.

That revenue issue is key in the long bizarre story of the bill.

In July 2009 the House first passed the bill, aiming to prevent massive outbreaks of tainted food by giving the Food and Drug Administration the authority to order mandatory recalls and require more frequent inspections of high-risk food processing plants.

But the bill then languished in the Senate for 15 months in the face of opposition from Republicans who objected to it adding around $1.5 billion to the deficit.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., argued that the bill needed to be fully paid for and do a better job of addressing regulatory failures. However, in November the Senate finally passed the food safety bill.

Except for one problem.

A tax provision included in the Senate bill violated the revenue rule, so instead of getting sent to President Obama’s desk, the bill remained stuck in Congress.

The Senate then put the food safety bill into the massive $1.1 trillion year-end omnibus bill, giving supporters of the measure renewed hope that it might still get passed after all.

But no.

Last Thursday, Reid, in the face of widespread GOP opposition, decided to scrap the omnibus bill in favor of a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government into early 2011.

At that point the food safety bill was considered dead. Until Sunday’s surprising development in the Senate, that is.

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