By Helena Bottemiller
The Senate took a key vote on a high profile deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts Monday, a move that could clear the way for the food safety bill to be considered later this week.
The food safety bill, which stalled in the Senate after the House approved a similar bill in July 2009 and ultimately passed the upper chamber earlier this month, will most likely be considered attached to an omnibus spending bill that funds the federal government through September 2011.
The bill passed the House 212-206, with 35 Democrats joining Republicans to vote "no," but must be re-approved by the Senate. Though the upper chamber approved virtually the same measure, the bill was voided because it inadvertently contained a fee provision that is technically unconstitutional--Article 1 says revenue-raising provisions must originate in the House.
The constitutional snafu nearly derailed the legislation--which has struggled to gain attention amidst a busy legislative agenda--but now that the provision is attached to an all-or-nothing government spending bill, there's a real chance that food safety reform will be approved before the end of the year.
The current continuing resolution to fund the government (the fiscal year ended in October with no new budget) is set to expire at midnight Friday.
"One thing we'll need to do before we leave this year is fund the government because Democrats didn't pass a single appropriations bill this year," Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor in mid-November. "Now they'll try to mop up in the 11th hour with an omnibus spending bill that covers all of it. This is one more sign they aren't learning many lessons from the election."
Though McConnell and other Republicans have been highly critical of any Democratic attempt to increase government spending, the omnibus bill is expected to garner enough support to pass the upper chamber. Unlike the continuing resolution in the House, which largely freezes discretionary spending at $1.09 trillion, the Senate's budget extension will likely be more ambitious.
Senate Democrats are hoping to substitute a "more detailed" $1.1 trillion discretionary budget that includes about $18 billion dollars in additional funding and earmarks.
Exactly how the Senate will handle this budget crisis, and how food safety will ride the wave, is not clear.
As Politico's David Rogers put it last week, the normal appropriations process has failed more than usual this year: "Year-end budget crises have become almost routine in Washington, but the collapse of the process this year has reached a scale not seen before."
Originally published on Food Safety News.