Moments ago, the House of Representatives passed the Food Safety bill—which the Senate, in one of the most underhanded legislative maneuvers we’ve ever seen, approved late Sunday night. It now goes to the president to be signed into law.
As we told you last week, Democrats first attempted to attach the food safety bill to the short-term spending measure to keep the government running, but Republicans balked because they wanted to keep that measure clean. So Sunday night, the Senate raised it as an amendment to a completely unrelated bill from the House of Representatives—H.R. 2751, the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act!
Incidentally, quite a number of reports have gotten many of these details wrong.
The House bill, which began life as the “Cash for Clunkers Temporary Vehicle Trade-in Program” (very fitting given this basket case of a “food safety” bill), had been on the Senate’s legislative calendar since June of 2009. Suddenly, in a flurry of activity, the text of the old S. 510 was repackaged as Senate Amendment 4830. This was then proposed “in the nature of a substitute” for the House bill, which means the text of the Senate amendment was completely substituted for the original text of the House bill. This was agreed to in the Senate by unanimous consent. The title of the bill was then amended, renaming it—you guessed it—the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act!
By the way, there were several different “Cash for Clunkers” bills that were sent back and forth between the Senate and the House, and one of those was passed into law. This one simply languished on the legislative junk pile until it could be resurrected—that is, until its shell could prove itself useful in a profoundly devious maneuver.
The reason the Senate took a bill already passed by the House and completely replaced its language with the food safety bill language was to get around the constitutionality issue that had been the bill’s downfall a few weeks ago. So now, technically, the Senate’s bill, with its tax provision, actually did originate in the House, even though it actually was drafted by and inserted by the Senate. An absolute end-run around the rules.
All at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, when they thought no one would be watching. Our senators should be ashamed of themselves for acting so dishonorably.
The swift approval by unanimous consent caught some aides and lobbyists working on it by surprise. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) had promised to block the legislation, but he inexplicably lifted his objection at the final moment. Reid announced he would send the legislation—this time properly attached to a House-originated measure—back to the lower chamber for final approval.
Tuesday morning, the House voted on the Rules Committee’s “closed rule,” meaning that no amendments are allowed. It then went to the House floor, and after less than an hour of debate, the bill passed, 215 to 144.
After the holidays, we will publish a wrap-up of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, unraveling the timeline, outlining some of the important concessions ANH-USA won during the process, and discussing where we go from here.