When Harry Reid pulled the plug on the omnibus spending bill Thursday night, he also ended his best hope of fixing a monumental blunder committed earlier in the lame-duck session. Senate Democrats bragged that they had passed a far-reaching food-safety bill opposed by conservatives for its overreach and regulatory expansion, until their counterparts in the House pronounced it dead on arrival for its unconstitutional creation of new tax policy. Reid had hoped to sneak the House version into the omnibus in order to wipe the egg off of his face, but that plan ended up under the omnibus:
A sweeping food safety measure heralded as a rare Senate victory just a few weeks ago looks like it might fall to the cutting room floor, as senators hammer out the details of a resolution to prevent a government shutdown.
Aides say Majority Leader Harry Reid must strip down the government funding measure to its bare bones so that the Senate can pass it quickly by unanimous consent and send back to the House, which had attached the food-safety measure to its version of the continuing resolution earlier this month. A vote on a package with other items would meet resistance from Senate Republicans, eating into floor time — the most valuable commodity in Congress at the moment as Christmas nears.
Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who blocked the food-safety bill multiple times in November, would be the most likely troublemaker for Reid if the measure, known as a continuing resolution, includes the food-safety provisions.
“He will object to including the so-called food safety bill in the [continuing resolution],” Coburn spokesman John Hart said in an e-mail to POLITICO Friday.
Reid could still move the revised bill to the floor on its own for debate, but time is now running short in the lame-duck session. Reid has spent today working on the DREAM Act, which is almost certain to go down to defeat, especially since Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) had to leave Washington due to his prostate cancer. After that, Reid has to move on DADT, the next continuing resolution to keep the government in operation past Tuesday, and the START treaty. The days are growing short for a ground-up effort on new legislation. The food safety bill could be attached to a “minibus” spending bill, the way Reid attempted to pass it with the omnibus, but that risks a government shutdown on Wednesday, and would force Reid to concede a lot of floor time for debate that he’d rather use on DADT and START.
Reid has threatened to keep the Senate in session through the holidays, but that’s an empty threat at best. He will still have a quorum if Republicans refuse to show up (a quorum is a simple majority), but cloture still takes 60 votes, which Reid won’t get without Republicans casting votes in the Senate. The extended session might make sense for a purported national-security issue (START) or for finalizing the budget, but not for a regulatory expansion in food inspections or a policy in the military that Reid can easily take up after January.
There is only one person to blame for Reid’s predicament: Reid. He pushed through a bill that blatantly violated the Constitution and wasted time that he should have spent on the budget. Had Reid pushed the omnibus first, instead of having it public long enough for people to peruse it thoroughly, he might have gotten both. Instead, Reid appears to have lost twice, although certainly he won’t give up trying until time runs out on the lame-duck session and Democratic machinations.