Oops! How the Food Safety Bill Passed Congress, But Really Didn't

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

Congress has a lot of odd rules, but one of the more basic ones is that revenue measures must originate in the House of Representatives, not the Senate.

That rule now appears to have caused the demise of the food safety bill.

Yes, the food safety bill that passed the House and then passed the Senate now looks unlikely to pass Congress this year. How? It’s a long story, but it starts well over a year ago. In July 2009 the House passed a sweeping food safety bill that aims to prevent massive outbreaks of tainted food by giving the Food & Drug Administration the authority to order mandatory recalls and require more frequent inspections of high-risk food processing plants. The bill then languished in the Senate for 15 months in the face of opposition from Republicans who objected to it adding around $1.5 billion to the deficit.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, argued that the bill needed to be fully paid for and do a better job of addressing regulatory failures. But in November the Senate finally passed the food safety bill.

Except for one problem.

A tax provision included in the Senate bill violated the revenue rule, so instead of getting sent to President Obama’s desk, the bill remained stuck in Congress.

The Senate then put the food safety bill into the massive $1.1 trillion year-end omnibus bill, giving supporters of the measure renewed hope that it might still get passed – again – after all.

But no.

On Thursday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in the face of widespread GOP opposition, decided to scrap the omnibus bill in favor of a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government into early 2011. And that short-term funding bill is not expected to include the food safety measure because if it did, Coburn would object to it.

“It's not going anywhere. It's dead,” Coburn told ABC News today.

That means that a minor tax provision will ultimately render moot a year of legislative work, hearings, tears from food-borne illness victims, and countless hours of lobbying.

One Democratic source told ABC News that the bill isn’t dead already, then it is on life support.

A Republican aide could not resist taking a swipe at Reid for passing the bill, but not correctly.

“Maybe next time if Reid wants to pass a food safety bill, he won't do it with one that's unconstitutional. On this one, Democrats fumbled the snap on the kneel-down,” the aide said.

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