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Could Procedural Error Prevent Dems From Passing Food Safety Bill?


Lame-duck clock is winding down.

A controversial food safety bill that passed the Senate this week appears to be heading back to the chamber after Democrats violated a constitutional provision that requires tax provisions to originate in the House of Representatives, Roll Call reports. This procedural hurdle could threaten the Food Safety Modernization Act's passage as time remaining in the Senate's lame-duck session ticks away.

By pre-empting the House’s tax-writing authority, Senate Democrats appear to have touched off a power struggle with members of their own party in the House. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the House, but House Democrats are expected to use a procedure known as “blue slipping” to block the bill, according to House and Senate GOP aides.

The debacle could prove to be a major embarrassment for Senate Democrats, who sought Tuesday to make the relatively unknown bill a major political issue by sending out numerous news releases trumpeting its passage.

Section 107 of the bill includes a set of fees that are classified as revenue raisers, which are technically taxes under the Constitution. According to a House GOP leadership aide, that section has ruffled the feathers of Ways and Means Committee Democrats, who are expected to use the blue slip process to block completion of the bill.

“We understand there is a blue slip problem, and we expect the House to assert its rights under the Constitution to be the place where revenue bills begin,” the GOP aide said.

The blue slip leaves Senate Democrats with two options: drop the issue completely, a strategy that would allow them to pursue other last-minute priorities; or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could press the issue forward in the Senate after the House takes times to pass a new version of the bill.  But, in order for that to happen in a timely manner, Roll call notes, Reid would have to secure unanimous consent on a motion to limit Senate debate -- an unlikely possibility given opposition to the bill from Senators such as Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

With time extremely limited and a number of priority issues at stake -- including any extension of the Bush tax cuts -- Democrats will need to make a tough choice, one that could leave the 111th Congress' food safety bill in the dust.

Still, some Democrats remain optimistic. On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, remarked that "nothing is going to kill this bill."

“I think we’re going to get it done. I think it’s going to happen soon.  We’re going to get something back from the House that we can move," Harkin said after speaking with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.  "Somehow this is going to get done. We’re just looking for a way to get it done.”

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