Food safety bill passes Senate, but dead in the water because …

posted at 8:48 am on December 1, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Apparently, no one told Harry Reid to check Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution before passing S510, the food-safety bill that Democrats hailed as a major lame-duck session achievement earlier this week — and which ran afoul of their own party in the House.  Section 107 of the bill raises taxes, and as any Constitutional scholar can attest — or anyone else who has actually read the document that Senators swore to uphold when taking office — only the House of Representatives has that power:

A food safety bill that has burned up precious days of the Senate’s lame-duck session appears headed back to the chamber because Democrats violated a constitutional provision requiring that tax provisions originate in the House.

By pre-empting the House’s tax-writing authority, Senate Democrats appear to have touched off a power struggle with members of their own party in the House. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the House, but House Democrats are expected to use a procedure known as “blue slipping” to block the bill, according to House and Senate GOP aides.

The debacle could prove to be a major embarrassment for Senate Democrats, who sought Tuesday to make the relatively unknown bill a major political issue by sending out numerous news releases trumpeting its passage.

Section 107 of the bill includes a set of fees that are classified as revenue raisers, which are technically taxes under the Constitution. According to a House GOP leadership aide, that section has ruffled the feathers of Ways and Means Committee Democrats, who are expected to use the blue slip process to block completion of the bill.

Now what?  The House will either block the bill entirely or pass its own version of it.  The latter option will mean that Reid will have to hold a vote to reopen debate on the bill, and will need unanimous consent to limit that debate.  Otherwise, it could take the rest of the legislative calendar in the Senate to move the bill before the session ends and the bill has to be reintroduced.  Even if the House cooperated, the bill could later be challenged in court as being procedurally deficient.

Reid can forget about unanimous consent.  Roll Call notes that Tom Coburn won’t agree to it due to his strong opposition to the bill in any form.  Meanwhile, the issue will continue to draw attention to Democrats’ continued expansion of the regulatory state while ignoring jobs and the budget.

Yesterday, Senate Democrats were crowing about this bill.  Today, they’ll be eating crow.

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