Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) says he will hold up the pending food safety bill unless Democrats find a way to pay for the measure.
With time running out in the Senate, advocates had hoped that the recent egg recall would provide the impetus to finally move the legislation, which has been stalled for more than a year, to the floor. Coburn’s threat, however, is a serious problem for the bill.
“We can’t afford to spend money we don’t have any longer,” Coburn spokesman John Hart told Politico Monday. As Politico reported, the bill, which would cost about $1.4 billion over five years, does not break Congress’ self-imposed paygo rules because it only authorizes appropriations, it doesn’t actually set them (that would happen during the appropriations process).
In what is perhaps a larger challenge for the bill, Coburn seems to believe the key elements of the bill are unnecessary. Sen Coburn yesterday released a detailed memo outlining his concerns with the legislation.
He pointed to the recent, highly publicized egg recall, citing overlapping jurisdictions, the inefficient use of resources, and poor coordination as the systemic problems. “A lack of regulatory bill isn’t the problem,” he says in the memo.
“This overlap was evident in the egg salmonella scare,” reads the document. “The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. Department of Agriculture experts knew about sanitary problems at one of the two Iowa farms at the center of a massive nationwide egg recall, but did not notify health authorities. USDA inspects farms and gives eggs their “Grade A” label, while the FDA technically is tasked with the safety of the final egg product.”
Coburn also takes issue with what he calls “burdensome new regulations.”
“There are 225 pages of new regulations, many of which are problematic. While some regulations are potentially onerous, but perhaps reasonable – such as requiring every facility to have a scientifically-based, but very flexible, food safety plan–others give FDA sweeping authority with potentially significant consequences,” says the memo.
Performance standards granting “extremely broad” authority to the agency, traceability requirements, mandatory recall authority, and fees are among “the most troubling” elements of the bill, says Coburn. The senator also hits the commodity-specific produce safety standards.
“Instead of trusting industry and the free-market, this provision implies that complying with government standards is the best way to keep consumers safe,” says Coburn in the memo. “A lot of the produce industry lobbied for these standards to provide ‘consumer confidence’ after the jalapeno and tomato scare, but federal regulations could particularly adversely impact small providers.”
As it has for months, the outlook for the bill remains highly uncertain. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Monday that he thought the bill was cleared to move forward, but learned that Coburn was objecting. “We hope within the next 24 hours he will say yes,” said Reid Tuesday afternoon.