Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the food safety bill late yesterday, a move that will ready the measure for a vote after the midterm election, an aide told Food Safety News.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act has stalled in recent weeks despite heightened concerns about food safety following a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella linked to eggs. The bill, which has had bipartisan support, would, among other things, give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration greater authority to test food, enhance its ability to trace outbreaks and empower it to order recalls of contaminated food.
Now the languishing measure may be one of the first bills up for consideration in November when Congress reconvenes after the election, although it will compete with a variety of high profile issues, including a defense authorization bill and whether to extend the Bush tax cuts.
Majority leadership twice last week asked for unanimous consent to bring the bill to the floor for consideration. Both times Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected, citing the bill’s price tag and a number of other concerns.
Filing cloture begins the process of moving the bill to the floor under restricted debate, removing the possibility of a filibuster and circumventing Coburn’s objection to bringing the bill to the floor. The procedure requires 60 votes.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) recently told reporters he believes he has over 90 votes for the bill. It is likely that the amendments allowed to be offered will remain the same.
Carol Tucker-Foreman, food policy fellow at Consumer Federation of America, says the bill will pass “if it can just get to the floor,” but expressed caution in assuming there would be a lame duck session vote, because as many as 20 bills may be competing for consideration in the very short time period.
“If [Republicans] win control of the Senate or even make big inroads on the [Democrat] majority [in the election], they’ll be reluctant to pass any bill that they think could be ‘improved’ next year by a Republican-controlled Congress,” explained Tucker-Foreman in an email response to Food Safety News. “However, S 510 may be the least objectionable.”
Though several news outlets have pronounced the food safety bill dead, Tucker-Foreman disagrees. “It’s an important public health bill–and we’ll work hard to get it considered during the lame duck session,” she said.