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By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
November 30, 2010

Crucial Senate Vote Today on FDA Food “Safety” Bill

WASHINGTON – Congress returned to work yesterday, following the 10-day Thanksgiving recess, and faces a mountain of unfinished business that includes at least 20 bills Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are determined to ram through during the remaining days of the session, before the power they’ve wielded these past two years slips from their hands.

“Rarely has such a big pile of work faced lawmakers when the party in power has suffered so much at the ballot box,” said Andrew Taylor at Associated Press.

To get these measures passed, the Democrats need a certain amount of Republican support, and it seems that in some cases they will get it.

To clear the way for action Reid is employing a very shrewd strategy. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, instead of dealing with the urgent fiscal matters that call for immediate attention, as observers expected he would do and which he should do, Reid and his Democratic colleagues have gone for broke and are pressing for approval of S. 510: The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a highly controversial measure intended to extend the power of the Food and Drug Administration over food production and distribution from farm to fork.

The House version, H.R. 2749: the Food Safety Enhancement Act, was passed July 30, 2009. Although introduced in March 2009, S. 510 was held back in the Senate and not brought to the floor until the current lame duck session.

A vote on the “Managers Package” for S. 510 is scheduled for this morning, following a vote for cloture.

Reid launched the drive for Senate approval of S. 510 on Nov. 15, when the Congress reconvened following the mid-term elections. The opposition went to red-alert. Email and fax lists were activated, phone-lines to senators were “melted.”

Then, on Nov. 19, just days after the start of the session, Congress was adjourned for Thanksgiving. Opponents of the measure were relieved since that spelled 10 more days to convince the senators to vote No. But it has also meant that its supporters, such as the consumer groups and “big Ag” interests, have had additional time to make their case with the senators

Critics have called S. 510 the most dangerous bill of the decade, right up there with ObamaCare and Cap-and-Trade. But despite intense opposition from farm groups, organic food consumers and producers, local food advocates, and allies in the tea parties, libertarian and constitutionist groups – the bill actually enjoys significant support among Republican senators and House members making passage almost certain.

Selecting this particular measure from the pile of other must-pass bills was a smart tactical move on Reid’s part. First, GOP lawmakers appear willing to give him the support he needs for passage.

Passage, in turn, will not only energize and encourage the Democratic grassroots, it will send a strong message to tea party groups and their allies that their concerns don’t really count and could put a damper on any enthusiasm for participating in the coming battles over other lame-duck bills – all but assuring easy passage of these measures.

$3 Trillion Tax Hike

Yet despite the attention directed towards the food safety bill and the other measures, these aren’t the only critical matters which Congress resolve.

According to Andrew Moylan, Director of Governmental Affairs at the National Taxpayers Union, the most immediate threat to the stability of the country and its economy involves a bill that had not been introduced as of Nov. 11 (when NWV spoke with Moylan), nor discussed when Congress returned for the lame-duck session that began Nov. 15.

This bill would involve the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush that give tax breaks to individuals and small businesses making over $250,000.

President Obama says he wants the income-tax cuts for families with less than $250,000 annual income to be permanent, but not for those making above that amount.


“If Congress does nothing, if they take no action whatsoever, we’re going to see a three-trillion-dollar tax hike take effect on Jan. 1, 2011,” Moylan told NWV. “That’s a very big deal.”

Moylan added that most observers agree that Congress is “not going to do nothing.”

“They’re not going to let all the tax cuts expire,” he explained. “But if they propose a bill to extend tax cuts for, say, just people who make less than $250,000 a year – which is the talking point they’ve been using – and raise taxes on wealthier folks, that’s $700 billion that’s going to hit a lot of small businesses and a lot of folks who invest a lot of dollars in what is a very struggling economy.”

“So that’s a major threat we’re trying to keep our eye on and hopefully defend against,” said Moylan. “It’s the one with the biggest dollar amount attached to it. If we don’t fix it, and we don’t extend these tax rates, then we’re going to see a $3 trillion tax hike. That’s unacceptable to us and probably to a lot of the American people.”

Dec. 3 Deadline

Looming even nearer than the cutoff date for the Bush tax cuts is the deadline on the temporary financial fix that Congress passed in October to pay government expenses for the first months of the fiscal year that began Oct. 31. This stopgap measure is set to expire Friday, Dec. 3.

The measure was passed because Congress hadn’t finished working on any of the 12 spending bills that finance the government. Democratic leaders want these 12 bills packaged into one omnibus measure, with full-year funding continued at the current levels. Republicans may push for a second stopgap bill – one that would extend into 2011, with the intention of revisiting the appropriations issue next spring when they have control of the House and greater power in the Senate.

As for other bills likely to pop up during the lame-duck session, in Moylan’s view the most dangerous that comes to mind would be Cap-and-Trade. However, although it’s been passed by the House, the consensus within the Beltway is that the Democrats don’t have the 60 votes in the Senate to push it past a filibuster. And a couple of “conservative-ish” Democrats have indicated they’d never vote for it.

“Of course,” Moylan adds, “Anything could happen. It’s not completely unthinkable that they’d try to bring up something like it for a vote.”

Other Bills on the Must-Pass List

As listed by The Hill newspaper, the 20 bills competing for floor time in the lame-duck session include defense authorization, the DREAM Act, START Treaty, food safety, cyber security, NASA authorization and child nutrition. Click here for complete list.

But there are others, many of them part of the administration’s “progressive” agenda and as such have faced opposition by GOP lawmakers over the past two years. As the 111th Congress winds down the pressure to pass “Reid’s rotten leftovers” is intense, but so is the opposition. It’s anyone’s guess how these will fare in the congressional “sausage mill.” Some, like Rep. Henry Waxman’s H.R. 2454: American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, better known as Cap-and-Trade, have already passed their house of origin and are waiting in the other chamber for the next move. Others have not even been dropped in the hopper – like a massive public lands management bill that Sen. Reid is keeping secret and which has not even been assigned a number.

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For constitutionalists, these bills are particularly dangerous in that they are designed to expand federal powers over all aspects of our lives, at the expense of state sovereignty and guaranteed personal liberties.

Meanwhile, a victory today on S. 510 would be a real coup for Reid and Pelosi. Concerned citizens are urged to contact their senators.

Senate Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Earlier Stories:

1 - Sarah Foster: FDA Food “Safety” Bill Can Be Stopped: Nov. 24, 2010
2 - Sarah Foster: Hey Tea Partiers -- Where Are You?: Nov. 18, 2010
3 - Sarah Foster: FDA Food “Safety” Bill Poised for Passage: Nov. 16, 2010
4 - Doreen Hannes: Cheese Factory, FDA and Corruption: Nov. 13, 2010
5 - Sarah Foster: House Set to Vote on Fast-Tracked "Food Safety" Bill: July 30, 2009
6 - Sarah Foster: Will Congress Wipe Out Home Gardens, Growers Markets? Mar. 23, 2009

2010 NWV - All Rights Reserved

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Sarah Foster is a political researcher and freelance writer.

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Reid launched the drive for Senate approval of S. 510 on Nov. 15, when the Congress reconvened following the mid-term elections. The opposition went to red-alert. Email and fax lists were activated, phone-lines to senators were “melted.”