Snafu could stall food safety bill
The House says the bill contains fees that are considered tax provisions, which under congressional rules are supposed to originate in the House.
Thu, Dec 02 2010 at 9:24 AM
FOOD SAFETY: The bill would increase FDA inspections of food facilities, place stricter standards on imported foods and give the agency broader authority to order a recall. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Food safety legislation that passed the Senate by a commanding margin is now threatened by a procedural snafu that could give Republicans opportunity to block it.
The largely bipartisan Senate bill appeared to be headed for quick passage in the House, which would have sent it to President Barack Obama's desk. But House Democrats said Wednesday that it contains fees that are considered tax provisions, which under congressional rules are supposed to originate in the House.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., chided the Senate for making the mistake and said the House is trying to find a way to resolve the issue in the few remaining days of the congressional session.
"The Senate knows this rule and should follow this rule," he said.
The $1.4 billion bill passed the Senate 73-25 on Tuesday. It would increase Food and Drug Administration inspections of food facilities, place stricter standards on imported foods and give the agency broader authority to order a recall. Supporters say passage is critical after widespread outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli in peanuts, eggs and produce.
No matter how Democratic leaders plan to proceed, the bill could now run into a number of obstacles as Republicans may attempt to block it.
Senate Republicans threatened Wednesday to block all other legislation until expiring tax cuts are extended and a bill is passed to fund the federal government. That would include the food safety legislation.
Supporters of the food safety bill would also have to find a way to circumvent Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has blocked the legislation several times over cost issues. Democrats finally passed the bill this week after holding multiple procedural votes designed to override Coburn's objections.
It is unclear how Democrats will resolve the issue. A Senate aide said the problem was caused by a misunderstanding between Senate and House floor staff.
Hoyer said the House may try to proceed by adding the food safety legislation to another bill and sending it back to the Senate.
Justine Sessions, spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Harkin, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said the senator is optimistic.
"We are confident that we can work with our House colleagues to find a path forward and get this bill to the president before the end of the year," she said.
Copyright 2010 AP News