Senate passes food-safety bill by unanimous consent

Chalk one up for the Senate Republicans in the category of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”  They had Harry Reid on the hook for fouling up a food-safety bill that the Wall Street Journal called a bonanza for big producers.  Instead of forcing the issue to wait for a new Congress and an approach that didn’t impose new costs and regulatory burdens that puts small producers at a disadvantage, the GOP agreed to allow the bill to pass through the Senate last night without any objections:

The Senate unexpectedly approved food safety legislation by unanimous consent Sunday evening, rescuing a bill that floated in limbo for weeks because of a clerical error.

The Senate passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act on Nov. 30 by a vote of 73-25. But the bill was later invalidated by a technical objection because it was a revenue-raising measure that did not originate in the House — Senate staff had failed to substitute the food safety language into a House-originated bill. …

Reid announced he would send the legislation — this time properly attached to a House-originated measure — back to the lower chamber for final approval.

Why would they agree to this?  Tom Coburn had the bill blocked until last night.  Perhaps another attempt to push this through gave Republicans a chance for something they wanted.  The Hill notes that Reid wanted to attach it to the continuing resolution that they will consider today:

Democrats first attempted to attach the food safety bill to the two-and-a-half-month spending measure but Republicans balked because they wanted to keep that measure clean, according to Senate aides.

From that sequence, it appears the GOP may have given up the food-safety bill for a clean CR.  They didn’t want the CR to become a “minibus,” a concern that had arisen when Congress passed a three-day CR on Friday night to fund the government through Tuesday.  Rumor had it that the Democrats wanted a blend of CR and omnibus that would set funding for the rest of the year on some key agencies, and the GOP want to go through a normal budget process instead.    It shouldn’t take three days to write a CR anyway, and the fact that they gave themselves that kind of breathing space indicated that Democrats intended to treat the CR like a Christmas tree.

If that’s the deal, then at least the unanimous consent on the food-safety bill would be explicable.  If the Senate produces a minibus anyway, then this gift to Reid is a strange collapse by the Senate GOP.