Last year, the House passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 on a 283-142 vote, with 54 Republicans joining 229 Democrats in approving the measure. Since then, however, the Senate’s version (the Food Safety Modernization Act) has languished.
The bill would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to recall contaminated food products (which it is currently unauthorized to do) and increase the number of inspections that occur at food facilities and farms. Currently, some facilities are only inspected every other decade.
Especially considering the salmonella outbreak that occurred last month — with 1,300 illnesses linked to eggs from Iowa — this bill seems like a no-brainer, and was headed for passage in the Senate until Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), “Dr. No,” came along:
Coburn’s office confirmed to POLITICO on Tuesday that the Republican is objecting to moving forward with the bill on the grounds that it will add to the burgeoning federal budget…”Yes, he’s concerned the bill is not offset,” said Coburn spokesman John Hart. “We can’t afford to spend money we don’t have any longer.”
As Jamelle Bouie put it, “similar measures have been in place for seafood and juice producers since the 1990s and are widely thought to have been effective in reducing outbreaks. It’s pretty much accurate to say that Coburn’s objection marks him as resolutely pro-food contamination.”
Coburn’s cost concerns are also off base, because, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill in question is deficit neutral. It authorizes $1.4 billion in spending from the FDA, but does not set new funds. In fact, in the official CBO score, there is simply a string of zeros under “net increase or decrease in the deficit.” “The revenue and direct spending section of the score only talks about possible revenue from penalties and makes no mention of spending because there is no direct spending,” a Democratic aide explained.
“Government has to respond to protect consumers of this country and also to protect businesses because if people are scared to buy certain products they’re not going to go shopping,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who co-sponsored the legislation. “And that’s just not right.” But Coburn — as he tends to do on so many other pieces of legislation — is holding up the show over concerns that have no basis in reality.
(HT: Jamelle Bouie)