The process of getting food safety legislation approved by Congress and signed into law has taken another turn for the worse. After Senate action earlier this week, the measure appeared headed for House approval and then to the White House for President Obama's signature.
But a little thing called the U.S. Constitution (the document, not the warship) has gotten in the way. Seems the Senate tucked some new "fees" in their version of the bill. One wouldn't think that's a big deal, but in the eyes of budget types, those fees are viewed as taxes. That's where the constitution comes into play. The document requires that all tax policy start in the U.S. House of Representatives.
That now sets up another delay for the legislation once all the finger pointing between the House and Senate runs its course.
The options for the legislation now include:
- The House could put a House bill number on the Senate legislation, pass it and send it back to the Senate for another vote.
- The House could tuck the Senate bill into another piece of legislation from the House, approve that and send it back to the Senate for another vote.
So the Senate will still most likely have to vote on the package once again. But that in itself could be another delay point. All 42 Senate Republicans have signed a letter pledging they will block action on any other legislation until some kind of agreement is reached on spending and the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.
And then there are those in the food industry such as the United Fresh Produce Association that turned against the Senate bill after inclusion of a provision that exempts small farms and processing firms from the legislation based on their annual sales and distance from their customers. Some say the group wants to force a conference committee to iron out the differences, even though most contacts give low odds of this happening.
The bottom line is that a legislative blunder by someone in the Senate (of course no one is taking responsibility for it) will mean that this issue will continue to linger. That's not maybe all that surprising considering that the House passed their version of the bill clear back in July 2009.
And the reaction by several ag groups is mixed at best in terms of their view of the legislation.