September 30, 2010
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) signaled his intent late Wednesday night to move the Food Safety Modernization Act forward when Congress returns to session in mid-November. The bill, which has strong bi-partisan support, has been held up for weeks by the objection of one lone Senator, Tom Coburn (R-OK).
Reid filed for “cloture,” a motion that requires three days to ripen and then 60 votes to cut off debate and bring the measure to a floor vote. The last-minute cloture filing means that the bill could be considered as early as November 17, two days after the start of the “lame duck” post-election session.
If the measure is brought to a vote in the Senate, it is likely to pass. However, with so many other prominent issues left for consideration during the short lame duck session, including the defense authorization bill, all of the FY 2011 appropriations bills, extension of unemployment insurance, and a bill to extend some of the Bush tax cuts, the Food Safety Modernization Act will be in a major fight for floor time.
Wednesday night’s action, however, is the most promising sign the bill has had in weeks. Without the cloture move, the bill was expected to be dead for this Congress. Now the bill has a chance of clearing the Senate. If it does, it would give the House the opportunity to at least consider passing the Senate bill in December and letting it become law.
Even though the House passed its own very different bill over a year ago, there will not be time in the lame duck session for the House and Senate to conference a bill and then take the negotiated bill back to the floor of both bodies for a vote. Thus in all likelihood there is only one way that a bill becomes law this year – the Senate has to pass its measure and then the House has to pass the Senate bill.
If the Senate approves cloture, as expected, the amendments that get debated after that will likely themselves to become a matter of negotiation. While there are some amendments that may or may not get a vote, the so-called Manager’s amendment will be considered and approved and we also fully expect that the Tester-Hagan amendment will be debated and voted on.
NSAC supports the Manager’s amendment to the bill, which includes language based on five NSAC-supported amendments sponsored by Senators Sanders, Bennet, Brown, Stabenow, and Boxer that address small and mid-sized farm, local food, and conservation concerns.
We also support the Tester-Hagan amendment, and, if it passes we support final passage of the bill and would support House passage of the same measure.
The Tester amendment creates size-appropriate alternatives to the underlying bill’s “preventative control plan” requirements for very small processing facilities (both on-farm and off-farm) as well as for farms with less than $500,000 in annual sales that primarily direct market their products to consumers, stores, or restaurants and do so within state boundaries or within 400 miles of the farm.
The amendment would also exempt from produce standard regulations farms with less than $500,000 in annual sales that primarily direct market their products to consumers, stores, or restaurants and do so within state boundaries or within 400 miles of the farm.
As the lame duck session in mid-November draws closer we will inform readers of the evolving landscape for Senate consideration and provide further ideas for citizen action.
Categories: Food Safety