The Senate continued a mad rush in their fairly productive lame duck session today, passing a food safety bill and filing cloture to end debate on ratification of the new START treaty.
The food safety bill was left for dead after the Senate, which passed the bill earlier in the lame duck, mistakenly did not use a shell bill from the House. Because the bill includes some fees on food producers that are seen in Constitutional terms as a tax, the Senate could not originate the bill. So the House had to “blue slip” the bill, even though they passed their own version previously. There was some hope that the bill would get placed in whatever continuing resolution funds the government; a deal has apparently been reached on a CR through March. Republicans objected to that because they wanted to make the CR a clean bill. But, they attached the food safety measure to a House shell bill and passed it by unanimous consent tonight.
The bill now goes back to the House, where passage is expected. It will increase inspections of food producers and allow the FDA to mandate recalls, among other things. It marks the first update of food safety procedures in almost a century.
So far in the lame duck, Congress has passed: the tax cut bill which includes a 13-month extension of unemployment insurance, the legislative repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the child nutrition bill, a settlement for black farmers and Native American trust accounts, a one-year doc fix, a telework bill, a long-awaited low power FM bill, the CALM Act, and now an expected food safety bill.
But that’s not all. In addition to the food safety move today, the Senate confirmed a couple more judges, meaning that 12 have passed Congress in the past week. And of equal consequence, Harry Reid filed cloture on the new START treaty, after the Senate rejected another amendment to the treaty today. The cloture vote would come Tuesday, with final passage on Wednesday. That final passage needs 2/3 of all members voting, which means that Ron Wyden’s absence for prostate surgery does not affect the final outcome (66 would be the goal if the other 99 Senators vote).
It’s unclear whether they will have enough votes to get it done. Lindsey Graham, who voted for the motion to proceed, spoke negatively of the measure on one of the Sunday shows this morning, but he seemed to base this on the lame duck being “poisoned” by other issues. Harry Reid absolutely didn’t want to hear it. Here was his statement, showing renewed fire:
“After months of consideration and five days of open and robust debate, it is time to move forward on a treaty that will help reverse nuclear proliferation and make it harder for terrorists to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. Every day we delay is another day we do not have inspectors on the ground in Russia monitoring their nuclear arsenal.
“As we move ahead, I look forward to continuing to debate amendments. But soon this will come down to a simple choice: you either want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, or you don’t.”
There are even a couple other possibilities for the lame duck, in the last couple weeks of Congress with Democratic majorities in both houses. The House passed a stripped-down defense authorization bill late Friday. This could end up with Senate passage in the next couple days. It includes a section banning detainee transfers from Guantanamo, but the loophole on that looks pretty wide.
There’s also a bill that would help 9-11 rescue workers sickened by environmental hazards at Ground Zero, which supporters think could get a vote in the waning days.
(Kirsten) Gillibrand and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are offering a less-costly alternative to the original bill to aid 9/11 responders and survivors, saying that they believe it will gain needed support from the GOP. They said the Senate was expected to consider the new bill once they finish dealing with the U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons.
“Barring a setback, we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of the week,” Schumer said.
To raise pressure for the bill, a group of 9/11 responders plans to gather outside the White House on Tuesday to urge President Obama to get involved in the fight to pass it.
Because this is a new bill, the House would have to pass this version; they already took care of the original bill. But the House wants to leave for the year after wrapping up the continuing resolution. And obstructionists in the Senate could drag out the passage of the 9-11 health bill for close to a week, forcing as many as three cloture votes.
So we’ll see.