(UPDATED COVERAGE, Dec. 20) In a surprise move, the Senate on Sunday passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, reviving the legislation that had appeared dead.
The bill, with the Tester Amendment intact, goes to the House for approval. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., added the amendment to exempt smaller growers from some of the bill's provisions, a move opposed by the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association, among other groups.
With President Obama expected to leave Washington for the holidays Dec. 22, there was no guarantee the House would pass it again and get it to his desk in time, said Cathy Enright, vice president of government affairs for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, which opposes the bill because of the Tester Amendment.
The afternoon of Dec. 20, the House was thought to be leaning toward considering the bill under suspension, which would limit debate and get it to a vote quicker, Enright said. Bills under suspension need a two-thirds majority to pass. The first time the House passed the bill, it was on a 212-206 vote.
Western Growers had been "cautiously optimistic" that the Senate would not vote on the bill this week, much less over the weekend, Enright said.
A weekend of negotiations between Senate Democrats and Republicans led to the bill's unanimous approval Sunday night, according to The Washington Post's website. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reached an agreement that included the GOP's withdrawal of a filibuster threat, according to the Post.
âPerfect legislation? No. But a broad broad step in the right direction,â Reid said Sunday on the Senate floor, according to abcnews.com. âWe havenât done anything in this regard for more than a hundred years for our country. With all the changes in processing food, itâs so very important. Iâve spoken to the Speaker tonight and this will pass the House when they come back Monday night or Tuesday.â
The House passed its food safety bill in July 2009, and the Senate approved the Food Safety Modernizaton Act in November, but a technicality concerning levying new taxes invalidated the bill. Reid added the food safety language to the omnibus bill, but he withdrew the bill Dec. 16 because of Republican disapproval of earmarks included in it.