Dem error may help GOP kill food-safety legislation

DEM ERROR MAY HELP GOP KILL FOOD-SAFETY LEGISLATION…. As frustrating as political developments have been lately, Tuesday offered some good news: the Senate easily passed a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s food-safety system with bipartisan support.

Erik Olson, deputy director of the Pew Health Group, declared, “This is an historic moment. For the first time in over 70 years, the Senate has approved an overhaul of F.D.A.’s food safety law that will help ensure that the food we put on our kitchen tables will be safer.”

Great news, right? It would be, except Senate Democrats made a procedural mistake, giving Republicans a chance to kill the legislation once and for all.

[B]ecause of an arcane parliamentary mistake, the bill must be sent to the House of Representatives, which must approve it and return it to the Senate to be approved one more time. Only then, can the measure be sent to President Obama. […]

The arcane problem in the food safety bill stems from a provision that gives the secretary of health and human services the authority to collect fees from food facilities and importers for inspection, recall, re-inspection and importation activities.

Part of the fee also covers the administration of the “Voluntary Qualified Importer Program” which helps expedite access to imports that pose no meaningful food safety risk. And because the fee pays for administration, not directly for a service provided by the government, it is a revenue provisions that, according the Constitution, must first be approved by the House.

By late Tuesday, the plan appeared to be pretty straightforward: the House would simply pass the Senate version and send it on to the White House. In light of the Senate error, that’s not an option, making it necessary for the House to pass the bill and then send it back to the Senate once more.

Under normal circumstances, even that wouldn’t be too big a deal. Given the way the Senate has traditionally operated, and the fact that the legislation has broad bipartisan support, “the Senate might simply reapprove the bill by unanimous agreement, bypassing the need even for a formal roll call vote.”

But Republicans have abandoned institutional norms — after the House re-passes the food-safety bill, the GOP intends to start the obstructionist process all over again, forcing Dems to “spend the better part of a week cycling through procedural votes just to get the measure back on the floor.” And given the limited lame-duck calendar, there’s just no time for that.

So to summarize, a Democratic procedural slip-up + Republican dickishness = more salmonella poisoning.

This is what governing in the United States in the 21st century is like when there’s a Democratic majority — and it’s going to get much worse next year.