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Time Growing Short for Vote on Food Safety Bill

After a year of legislative limbo, the future of the food safety bill in the Senate remains highly uncertain, as the work days left before the contentious midterm elections are dwindling.

Late Thursday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) again rejected a Democrat attempt at bringing the food safety bill to the floor for a vote.  In his objection, Coburn challenged Democrats to try bringing the bill to floor to prove their seriousness about the issue.

“We could have a cloture vote.  We’re not going to be doing anything next week anyway,” Coburn told Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) on the floor Thursday, in a heated exchange.  “If that’s how you feel about the bill, and you think I am dead wrong, file the cloture, get the votes and do it.”

As Politico’s Meredith Shiner aptly noted Thursday, “there may not be enough time to force the bill over the 60-vote hurdle required for cloture,” despite the broad bipartisan support for the legislation.  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told reporters last week he believes he has more than 90 votes for the bill.

Shriner noted Thursday that rumors have been running rampant in DC that the upper chamber will likely recess in a week to allow time for campaigning for the midterm elections.

Meanwhile, the bill remains deadlocked.  Coburn insists the bill does not address systemic concerns by not aiming to remedy the problems with jurisdiction and overlap.  Durbin and others, both Democrat and Republican, who have worked for months on the legislation insist that the measure, while not perfect, is a key step forward in reforming a dilapidated federal food safety system.

“As I have said before and will say again, the only perfect legislation that I’m aware of was tapped out on stone tablets and carried down a mountain by Senator Moses,” Durbin said on the floor Thursday.  “We can improve this bill.  We can entertain amendments that may improve this bill, but to stop us in our tracks and tell us we cannot even debate or deliberate it while the Senate sits empty doing nothing is inexcusable, while people are suffering or dying across America.”

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), who has been active in negotiating the details of the bill, offered a hint of optimism for the legislation, which has been pronounced dead by several media outlets.  Tester recently offered an updated version of his amendment to lessen the impact of the food safety bill on small producers and food facilities.

“He’s showed some leanings toward pulling his hold on the bill this last week, so we’re hopeful that will happen soon at this point,” said Tester.

“We will continue to work to get an agreement and hope that Coburn agrees to allow us to move forward with consideration of the legislation,” said Regan Lachapelle, a spokeswoman for Reid.   “We have many things left to consider and not much time on the schedule to do so because of Republican obstruction.”

Republicans question why Reid didn’t bring the bill up sooner, if the measure is, in fact, a top priority.  Campaign finance, defense authorization, including controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language, and the debate over the Bush tax cuts, are all competing for the Senate’s time before the midterms. 

© Food Safety News