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Food Safety Bill Scheduled For Big Votes in the Senate Tonight (and It's Expected to Pass)

November 29, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE 2: The cloture motion on the substitute amendment passed Monday evening, 69-26. Following that vote, the Senate rejected two amendments related to the 1099 health care provision and adjourned for the night. Things will pick back up tomorrow morning with a final vote likely in the early afternoon.

UPDATE: It’s now sounding like the final vote may be pushed back until Tuesday morning. In the unanimous-consent agreement governing the debate of the bill, Coburn has been given up to four hours to debate his amendments, and he is  planning on using all of his allotted time. In order to avoid staying in session past midnight to vote on this, word is they’ll stop tonight after the 1099 amendments and pick up at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning with the Coburn amendments and the final vote on passage.

Original post below…

Following the adoption of Sen. Jon Tester’s [D, MT] local foods amendment last week and Michael Pollan’s big endorsement in the New York Times today, the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act looks set to pass the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is telling senators to “expect a late night of voting on the bill” tonight, and when all is said and done, the bill will likely have the support of a large, bipartisan majority of the Senate and win final approval. It’s looking like the food safety overhaul might be the Democrats’ last big legislative victory before handing half off the Congress back to the Republicans.

Here’s a quick look at how tonight’s voting on the food safety bill will go down. At 6:30 p.m. ET, the Senate will take a vote on invoking cloture (a.k.a. breaking a filibuster) of the manager’s amendment, which is basically a substitute text for the bill that makes several minor tweaks and includes the Tester local foods amendment. Cloture votes require a 3/5ths majority, or 60 votes, to pass, and this one is expected to pass with a handful of votes to spare (the last cloture vote on moving forward with the bill passed 74-25).

After that, there will be four votes on amendments, mostly on stuff unrelated to the food safety bill. The first two votes will be on competing versions of repealing the 1099 reporting requirement from the new health care law. Everyone seems to be in general agreement on this — small businesses argue that it would be too much paperwork for them and D’s, R’s and Obama seem to agree — but the question is how to make up for the loss in revenue that would result from the repeal (about $17 billion over ten years). The Republican amendment would pay for it with unidentified appropriations cuts (to be fleshed out by the OMB at a later) and, so far, the pay-for in the Democratic amendment is unclear. The chances of either of these passing is unclear at the moment. 

The next two votes will be on amendments from Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK], one on banning earmarks for the 112th session of the Senate and one an alternate version of the food safety bill. The earmark amendment would essentially take the already-approved internal Republican earmark ban and make it a Senate-wide statute that the Democrats would have to follow as well. The alternate food safety bill would use private food inspectors instead of the FDA, require the FDA and USDA to streamline their activities, and provide the FDA with “limited new authorities” that Coburn says are “designed to better leverage the free market and focus resources on preventing food borne illness.” A section-by-section summary of the Coburn substitute can be found here (PDF). Both Coburn amendments are expected to fail.

Once these four amendments are voted on, the Senate will vote on final passage of the bill. Since final passage only requires a simple majority of 51 votes and the Senate will have already overcome a 60-vote hurdle on the bill earlier in the evening, the final vote should be a slam dunk. After that it either goes to conference committee or gets sent to the House of Representatives for a vote on the bill as passed by the Senate. Since time is quickly running out of for the Democrats this year, I expect the conference committee will be skipped over and the House will simply vote on the Senate bill. The House has already voted 283-142 in favor of their own food safety bill (H.R.2749).

Image of FDA inspector examining imported Ginko nuts courtesy of the FDA on Flickr.

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