Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 20, 2010

A PLEASANT SURPRISE FOR AMERICANS WHO EAT FOOD.... By all appearances, a sweeping overhaul of the nation's food-safety system, approved by both chambers with bipartisan support, was dead just 24 hours ago. It's why last night's unexpected breakthrough was an early Christmas present for Americans who eat food.

A bill that would overhaul the nation's food-safety laws for the first time since the Great Depression came roaring back to life Sunday as Senate Democrats struck a deal with Republicans that helped overcome a technical mistake made three weeks ago and a filibuster threat that seemed likely to scuttle the legislation.

After a weekend of negotiations, tense strategy sessions and several premature predictions about the bill's demise, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) reached a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that the GOP would not filibuster.

Without notice and in a matter of minutes Sunday evening, the Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent, sending it to the House, where passage is expected. President Obama has said he would sign the legislation, which would give the government far-reaching authority to set and enforce safety standards for farmers and food processors.

This isn't the year's sexiest piece of legislation, but it deserves more attention. The bill expands the FDA's ability to recall tainted foods, increase inspections, demand accountability from food companies, and oversee farming -- all in the hopes of cracking down on unsafe food before consumers get sick. This is the first time Congress has approved an overhaul of food-safety laws in 70 years.

It passed the Senate with 73 votes a few weeks ago, but Senate Democrats made a technical mistake in the writing of the legislation. They intended to fix it by inserting the bill's language into the omnibus, but when that was scuttled, the measure's fate appeared sealed.

Under normal circumstances, the fact that the legislation has broad bipartisan support in both chambers would mean the Senate could just reapprove the bill by unanimous agreement. But far-right opponents of the food-safety bill, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), said they'd force Dems to start over -- taking a week to jump through the procedural hoops. There was no time for that, which is why the legislation appeared to have no chance.

But last night, out of the blue, opponents yielded, and the Senate passed the bill again by unanimous consent. Why did Coburn and his allies relent? No one seems to know for sure, but we can all be glad he did. The legislation now heads to the House, where approval should be easy, and then to President Obama, who looks forward to signing it into law.

Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, responded, "This reaffirmed my faith in democracy."

When drawing up lists of major Democratic accomplishments of the last two years, I hope folks won't forget this one -- it's likely to make a big difference.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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But I'm a bit nervous..when the Senate Republicans start doing the right thing, I start wondering what they have up their sleeves.
Hope we ain't gettin' rolled...

Posted by: MR Bill on December 20, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

First DADT repeal.
And then a vote FOR food safety?
What did the RepubliConfederats suddenly get a heart?*
Maybe the "Ghost of Christmas Dinner Future" came to them in their sleep, and told them that their stuffed goose was a bacterial bomb, and everyone, including Little Lindsey would die a horrible death - puking and crapping all over the place. You know, kind of like Senate sessions when Democrats are in the majority.

*Just kdding!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on December 20, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, I'm guessing it is a quid pro quo for the Social Security cuts that Obama is allegedly going to propose in the SOTU address.

Posted by: Wyrm1 on December 20, 2010 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Somebody needs to read the legislation carefully. Not just the press releases, the legislation. My guess is there is big give away for Monsanto, ADM and the rest of the food companies. Something Amercians wouldn't like if we knew what it was.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 20, 2010 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

Why can't we have good news about the passage of an important food safety bill like this without the idiots popping up with their conspiracy theories about future backstabbing by Obama or about the legislation being intended to shut down local organic farms (small farms and home gardens are specifically exempted)?

Posted by: tanstaafl on December 20, 2010 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with others here, it's very hard to believe that this got through for nothing in return.

Posted by: r_m on December 20, 2010 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

"Why can't we have good news?" yeah, that's a question popping up on several "Left side" blogs lately. Tax Bill (many bad things, some really good things), DADT repeal, the Food Safety bill - a fair accomplishment for president Obama and the Dems - against a Party of No concerned only with preventing anything. But still the Far Left only has complaints, some going so far as to say there is no difference between Palin and Obama. I beg to differ. I continue to be profoundly disappointed in Obama's Iraq and Afghan policy, but otherwise if one was to make a list of accomplishments over the last 25 months.....well the far lefties can gripe all they want but it is a substantial list.

Posted by: T2 on December 20, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Ron - I'm also suspicious, but I do tend to trust Consumers Union folks. Then again, maybe they were rolled, and they don't know some details, either.

The sad thing is that I can no longer trust that the GOP did this just because it's the right thing to do. Perhaps they saw a political advantage in the short or long run. We're about to start two years of full-on crazy; perhaps that's related.

Posted by: Rathskeller on December 20, 2010 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Glad to see your Pom Poms are a'pumpin', this AM, tanstaafl, but, to refer to Ron Byers and other posters as "idiots" is beneath contempt.

And, yes, Obama did sell out the Seniors on Social Security. But, keep those Pom Poms jumpin' up and down. Three dimensional chess player and all that, eh? BTW, did you catch the great political cartoon in the McClatchy papers, last week, showing Obama folding in a poker game after only receiving his first two cards of the deal? Really on target.

Posted by: berttheclock on December 20, 2010 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

berttheclock - yes, because Obama's magical powers lets him overrule the Senate whenever he wants. he can just use the bully pulpit and magically, he gets the votes that he needs, and he need not negotiate with anyone about anything, because he is the king, the glorious and omnipotent king! nothing at all can stop Obama from doing anything so when he does something you don't like it's actual betrayal, it's not accommodation to an uncomfortable and unusual political reality with real consequences for real people if he does not negotiate act.

You're a child.

Posted by: Rathskeller on December 20, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with T2 on this....

Whether he deserves full credit or not, Obama did get a LOT of good legislation during the first two years of his term. Sure, us old 60's lefties didn't get all we wanted. Sure, I didn't like all the provisions of the tax deal. I'm still nervous about the START treaty. But think on this: would we have seen the prevention of economic collapse, the rescue of the auto industry, a food safety act, the repeal of DA/DT, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor as Supremes, and health care reform under a McCain/Palin administration?

If the election had gone the other way, we'd have a horrific economic collapse, massive cuts in "non-essential" Federal budgets (read: anything other than bombs and bridges to nowhere), gay folk losing any legal protections they already had, Michele Bachman on the Supreme Court, and Palin a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

I think we have a LOT to be grateful for!

Posted by: Eeyore on December 20, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

This ridiculous bill will increase the price of food a hundredfold. Food producers will not be able to keep up with the cost of government regulations and the costs will be passed on to you and me.

Tainted food is a mythical liberal issue anyway. I eat a 24-oz. porterhouse every night and as I told my cardiac surgeon, I've never vomited. I give my basset two pounds of hamburger every evening and he's never been sick either.

Posted by: Myke K on December 20, 2010 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

It'll take a hell of a lot more than this to restore my faith in democracy at this point. Citizens United is killing it as we speak. Find an antidote for that and pass it and I'll start having faith in it again.

Posted by: Another Steve on December 20, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, I am not an attorney nor have I ever worked in the legislative arena, but the bill was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent. That means it was passed as it came to them from the House, right? So doesn't that preclude any big, wet kisses for Monsanto or ADM? As for those determined to find a nefarious ulterior motive or sell-out, lighten up and enjoy the win and stop looking for trouble. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Posted by: Realist on December 20, 2010 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

good news for those who eat without question- be it supermarket fare or restaurant comestibles.

Better still, plant a garden, buy local, support your farmer's market, join a food coop. . .

Posted by: DAY on December 20, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

"Better still, plant a garden, buy local, support your farmer's market, join a food coop. . ."

Amen to that. I for one, would love to see them take 10% from corn / soybean subsides and use that to subsidize farmer's markets and the farmers that grow the produce sold there.

My guess is that Michelle Bachman and Chuck Grassley would protest such a move quite loudly.

Posted by: delNorte on December 20, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

It's interesting to see how much Democrats can get done, when they decide that they will actually get things done.

Posted by: Basilisc on December 20, 2010 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Realist: . That means it was passed as it came to them from the House, right?
No, it means they all agreed on the compromise, whatever that was. the fact it has gone back to the House for passage means something his different from the House version. We just don't know what. original

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on December 20, 2010 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks. I didn't catch the "sent back to the House" part. More coffee is in order apparently.

Posted by: Realist on December 20, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Big Ag loves it - Monsanto shares are skyrocketing. This can't be a good thing.

Posted by: Schlocky Balboa on December 20, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

I might be an idiot, at least my wife thinks I am sometimes, and I don't know a damn thing about this bill except that the Democrats screwed up, it looked dead and then last night it was magically passed. I also know that no Republican and damn few Democrats ever do anything simply to help the American people. There always has to be something in it for them. I also know that the most powerful lobbyiests in Washington work for ADM, Monsanto and the other food companies. The ag committees are among the most powerful in congress (they might be the most powerful) and the ag committees work exclusively for the big food companies.

If this bill didn't have the blessing of ADM, Monsanto and the other big food companies it wouldn't pass without a big stink. The big food companies don't do a thing out of the goodness of their hearts. There has to be money in it for them. In this highly partisan Senate it wouldn't make it past a cloture vote. Mitch McConnell's primary goal is to undermine President Obama, and for two years he has been pretty darn successful.

I am just saying this idiot's congressional BS warning system went off. Maybe I am all wrong and the Republicans all woke up yesterday and in the spirit of Christmas decided to do the right thing for the American people. I doubt it, eventhough I hope I am wrong.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 20, 2010 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

It's a well-known fact, Sunny Jim, that American's haven't eaten food since the 50s. What we eat now is called "food™."

Posted by: chrenson on December 20, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

@Rathskeller, next time you need a negotiator to buy a car from Cal Worthington, who used to ride around on a Rhino and call it his "dog Spot", be sure to take "The Negotiator" Obama. Of course, be sure to make a lot of room for that Rhino you will bring home.

Ah, to be a child, once again. Thanks, Rathskeller.

Posted by: berttheclock on December 20, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

I live in a rural area, and we have lots of small farmers and organic growers who sell produce outside "the system" at food stands and family markets.

Is this going to affect them? Is it going to put them out of business with lots of regulations they can't comply with? I think we liberals need to realize how adding more regulations is something big corporations can absorb, but small businesses/family farms can't. So they go out of business, and the corporations gobble them up.

Posted by: Speed on December 20, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the GOP heard from their pollsters. After all, "He voted to kill the laws that protect you from bad food" might carry some juice in an election ad.

Posted by: a different phil on December 20, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Speed, I think the bill specifically exempts the 'small' folks you mention.

For more information about "local food" visit:

Posted by: DAY on December 20, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

berttheclock - Sorry, that's unrelated gibberish. Politics is a game of compromise, with some hard choices. If you want to think of it as some endless ceremony of purity, go ahead, but it's a lifetime of disappointment for you. Obama and every politician will always disappoint you.

It is quite frustrating to me that the GOP has undergone a two-year full-court-press campaign of obstruction and filibuster with the express intent of weakening a popular president, and their campaign has successfully worked on a number of progressive and left-wing voters. He has been redefined for many who choose not to understand or try to understand what is actually happening.

Posted by: Rathskeller on December 20, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

This was not a priority for Repugs, since they don't eat food -- they only suck the blood of the poor and downtrodden.

Posted by: Ian A on December 20, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

There's always more than one way to skin the cat, even w/o conspiracy theories.

For example: The bill passes this year, giving FDA all those lovely powers to regulate and supervise. Then next year, the New! Improved! Republicanised! House refuses to fund FDA adequately and, to all intents and purposes, we're back to where we started. All those new powers are worthless unless they're put into practice.

Posted by: exlibra on December 20, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

@Ian A FTW!!

Posted by: Basilisc on December 20, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

@exlibra - Exactly. The last administration chose regulators who they were sure would refuse to regulate. Now, without the ability to appoint non-regulating regulators, the GOP House will simply not fund the regulators.

Posted by: David on December 20, 2010 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

If this law passes, then the FDA can buy my farm.

Posted by: anymouse on December 20, 2010 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

"I for one, would love to see them take 10% from corn / soybean subsides and use that to subsidize farmer's markets and the farmers that grow the produce sold there."

Better yet, how about just eliminating 100% of corn and soybean subsidies and letting local truck farmers compete on an even playing field for the first time. And while we're at it, make the giant plantation farms in California pay fll cost for the currently subsidized irrigation water they're getting from government hydroelectric plants. Oh--and fund the Interstates entirely with weight-distance fees on trucks.

That would be -- what do the right-wingers call it -- a FREE MARKET.

If the actual cost of factory farmed produce were reflected in supermarket price, instead of some of it being shifted to the average person's tax bill, ADM and Cargill couldn't stay in business.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on December 21, 2010 at 2:51 AM | PERMALINK



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