A bold stand in support of salmonella

A BOLD STAND IN SUPPORT OF SALMONELLA…. There’s no shortage of evidence, but one of the more striking examples of the Senate’s dysfunction is playing out this week over an overhaul of the nation’s food safety safeguards.

The legislation passed the House over a year ago, with relative ease, even garnering votes from several dozen Republicans. In the Senate, it has six principal co-sponsors — three Democrats and three Republicans.

Perhaps most importantly, over the summer, the nation saw at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states, all of which was a direct result of “holes in the country’s food safety net.” Given that Americans like eating food, and don’t like getting sick, the bipartisan bill is a textbook example of a no-brainer.

And yet, it may die. At least one far-right senator believes spending offsets are more important than salmonella.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday the Senate will not take up long-pending food safety legislation before the Nov. 2 elections, citing a Republican senator’s objections.

Reid announced on the Senate floor that “we’re not going to be able to get this done before we go home for the elections.” Reid and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin have been trying to move the bill quickly, but Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has a long list of concerns about the legislation, has blocked them.

Reid said Coburn’s objections mean that the bill (HR 2749) will not be completed before the Senate departs Oct. 8 for the midterm election campaign. “It’s just a shame that we can’t get this done,” Reid said.

Reid, D-Nev., could push the bill through the Senate by filing procedural motions to advance the legislation over Coburn’s objections, but doing so would require days of the Senate’s time.

That last part is key. A growing number of folks seem to understand that Republican abuses and obstructionism have effectively killed majority rule, creating mandatory supermajorities on everything for the first time in American history. What’s far less appreciated is the abuse of the clock/calendar — in this case, Dems have more than 60 votes. What they didn’t have is spare days to spend dealing with Coburn’s nonsense. There’s too much else to do, and not enough time to do it.

And so yet another important bill is pushed off, perhaps indefinitely.

What would it take to make Coburn happy? The far-right Oklahoman’s objection is over cost — the bill carries a price tag of $1.4 billion over five years. That’s not a typo. This is one of the cheapest bills Congress will consider this year, but rather than add a miniscule amount to the deficit, Coburn would rather sacrifice Americans’ food safety.

Coburn, it’s worth noting, cannot allow $1.4 billion to be added to the deficit over the next five years. He is, however, entirely comfortable with adding $700 billion to the deficit over 10 years, so long as it’s in the form of tax cuts for the wealthy. Coburn is on board with the spread of E Coli, but balks at Clinton-era tax rates for millionaires.

This, for reasons that escape me, is not considered a national scandal. Indeed, most of the country will probably never hear a word about this.