The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, will be brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday for a procedural vote and party leaders expect it to pass, The Hill news site reported late Sunday. Passage of the bill by the weekend is now possible.
In an article titled “Long Wait for Food Safety Bill May Be Over,” The Hill’s J. Taylor Rushing predicted the food safety bill would see its first floor action one day short of a full year since S. 510 cleared the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee with a unanimous 16-0 vote.
Before Congress took a six week break for the elections, S. 510 had run into its first serious partisan opposition with Oklahoma’s Sen. Tom Coburn questioning how it will be funded and whether it might add to a duplication of effort by federal food safety agencies.
A spokesman for Coburn told The Hill that the senator “hopes to reach an agreement that would avoid the need for a weekend session.”
The House passed H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, in July 2009 with a strong bipartisan vote of 283-142. It is the House’s companion version to S 510, but a conference committee with Senate will be required to reconcile a final bill for the President’s signature.
If the bill does go to the floor on Wednesday, credit will go to Majority Leader Harry Reid, who filed a cloture motion for S. 510 before the election break, putting it in a position for potential action in the lame duck session of Congress.
Under Senate rules, cloture is the only procedure under which the Senate may vote to put a time limit on consideration of a bill, thereby overcoming a possible filibuster. It takes 60 votes to impose cloture, then debate is limited to no more than 30 hours.
“The bill we are bringing to the floor is simple: it will make our food safer. It is a bipartisan bill that was reported out unanimously from the HELP Committee,” Reid said around the time he filed the cloture motion.
If some version of the House /Senate food safety reforms does become law, it would bring stepped up inspection of both foreign and domestic food processors, grant FDA mandatory recall authority, and require joint planning by FDA and USDA for stronger food safety.
If the Senate passes S. 510 before the weekend, it will then fall upon Sen. Durbin, D-IL, and Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, sponsors of the food safety measures, to work out differences in a conference committee.
A House-adopted fee structure that would help pay for FDA’s new duties was not included in S. 510 as it went to the Senate floor.
Also, if the Senate accepts an amendment by Sen. John Tester, D-MT, and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-NC, to let small producers and processors go without regulation, Dingell may have problems with something that is too sweeping.