Over the last two years, food producers large and small, consumer and public health groups, and Congressional leaders have come together to support legislation that would bring the most significant update to food safety laws in seven decades. To the chagrin of everyone who worked hard to get S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (and the Tester/Hagen Amendment), passed out of the Senate Monday, the bill is now facing a significant uphill battle.
The future of S. 510, which received broad bipartisan support (73 yeas 25 nays), is now in jeopardy due to a provision in the bill that would allow the FDA to impose fees on importers, and on companies whose food is recalled because of contamination. It now appears that S. 510 must be reconsidered in the Senate so it can be brought into compliance with Article 1, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution, which says all revenue-raising measures must originate in the House. However, finding floor time for the bill is looking less and less attainable since Senate Republican leaders are saying their caucus won't vote on any bills until Bush Era tax cuts are extending to the uber-rich. This means that the passage of S. 510 may not happen before the lame duck session ends.
Further lampooning the legislation is Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) threat to filibuster a vote if the bill returns to the Senate floor. A staunch opponent of the bill, one can recall Sen. Coburn's speech on the Senate floor two weeks ago when he argued that lawyers (myself included) are all the food safety regulation Americans will ever need.
Now is not the time to let politics get in the way of a piece of legislation that was unanimously voted (Yes, Sen. Coburn too) out of the Senate H.E.L.P. committee over a year ago. Those of us who have followed this historic Act from the time it was introduced to the moments just last week when we quivered in anticipation watching Senate cloture votes on C-SPAN understand that the current version of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act qualifies as a real piece of bi-partisan legislation that addresses a tangible and important national problem.
You may ask, "What's the rush? Can't we just wait it out?"
Not a chance. 2010 is almost over and realistically 2011 is shaping up to be the most politically contentious year since Obama took office. For any legislation that means more roadblocks and more politics. Translation, "Anyone who believes this bill will pass if it is introduced during the next Congressional session is in 'La-La Land'."
The bottom line, though, is this bill is a work of compromise and it is on the precipice of failure because of abhorrent politicking by Mitch McConnell and Co. This bill was passed and all were satisfied and ready to move until a technical flaw was noticed (a flaw not seen by Senate Republicans and Democrats alike over the last year of debate). Now is the time for our Senate and House leaders to do what they need to and finish what they started. Let's fix the flaw and do it now.