E coli conservatism isn’t going away

E COLI CONSERVATISM ISN’T GOING AWAY…. I’d really like to know how Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) mind works. Take his opposition to a food-safety bill currently pending in the Senate.

Far from offering common-sense reforms, this bill doubles-down on the status quo — which failed to prevent the salmonella outbreak — with 250 pages of new bureaucracy and regulations. Expanding the Food and Drug Administration will harm small businesses and raise prices at the grocery store — all without having a meaningful impact on food safety.

Throughout the debate, proponents have claimed we haven’t modernized food safety laws in 100 years. That proves my point. For the past 100 years, the free market, not the government, has been the primary driver of innovation and improved safety. Consumer choice is a far more effective accountability mechanism than government bureaucracies.

Now, I realize Coburn is one of the most right-wing senators in modern history. I also realize he reflexively opposes government regulation, even when those regulations help protect those Americans who eat food.

But his reasoning here is incoherent. Follow the logic: our existing food safety measures are inadequate … which leads to public-health hazards … which means we should stop trying to improve food safety measures.

By that reasoning, if I’m lax in bringing my car in for routine maintenance, and as a result my car starts to break down, it’s proof that routine auto maintenance isn’t a good idea.

This makes perfect sense, if you’re a crazy person.

Coburn seems at least partially aware of reality. Over the summer, there was a major egg recall, following at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states. The Washington Post reported in August that the outbreak highlights the need to fix “the holes in the country’s food safety net.”

That truth was hard to deny, and even harder to ignore. As we learned more about the story, we saw that the salmonella problems stemmed from an uninspected producer in Iowa, with a record of health, safety, labor, and other violations that go back 20 years. The need for better regulations and enforcement has been obvious for decades, but conservative, anti-regulatory lawmakers have consistently put industry profits above public safety.

Coburn sees all of this, and thinks, “See? I told you consumer safeguards are a bad idea.”

Walid Zafar explained yesterday, “Coburn reasons that since regulation didn’t prevent the salmonella outbreak, it means we need less regulation, when in fact, it means the exact opposite.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.