There are several reasons that we decided upon the Tester Amendment to the Food Safety Bill for episode 12 of 90 Second Summaries. First and foremost, the amendment is a significant one that is essential to understanding this piece of legislation (legislation we summarized in episode 7). Not only is it the most substantial difference between the Senate’s version of the bill and the House’s, but without it the future of the legislation itself would be unclear. Therefore, we think it is important that people understand how this amendment changes the bill.
Another significant influence in our decision was you. When we summarized the Food Safety Bill in episode 7 a number of viewers brought up the issue of protections for small farmers. It was clear to us that this amendment was worthy of a summary.
We expected this bill to get a cloture vote today, but they’re taking the week off and coming to it next Monday. Which makes sense, it’s not like they have a lot on their plate this lame duck session (other than this, DADT repeal, tax cut extensions, the DREAM Act and a new START Treaty, you know, minor stuff).
With 90 Second Summaries, we aim to cover policy items due to receive close attention in the coming weeks and months that are not being properly explained by most of the press corps. As a result, over one third of our episodes cover pieces of legislation that are receiving action or are expected to receive action during this lame duck session of Congress. We did not hit every hot topic on the board, but we got to a good number of them. Without further ado, here’s a roundup of the bills we covered that you should know about as the lame duck session unfolds:
The House votes today on a suspension bill to extend unemployment insurance by three months. David Waldman explains:
Now, suspension bills need a 2/3 vote to pass, so that’s a pretty high hurdle — 290 votes, at least 35 of which would have to come from Republicans. So why bring the bill to the floor that way? Suspension bills aren’t subject to amendment, nor to the motion to recommit. So although the hurdle is high, it’s a straight-up yes-or-no vote on unemployment benefits extension.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced he will bring up the DREAM Act as a standalone bill in the lame duck session. In the past, the Senate has attempted to attach the DREAM Act to larger bills.
The deals are still being hammered out on this so the specifics of what legislation will pass are still little fuzzy. By all reasonable expectations, an extension of some sort WILL get passed before the end of the year.
This bill has been moving its way through the Senate somewhat quicker than most of us expected. Cloture passed yesterday, 74-25, on the motion to proceed to debate (generally a proxy for cloture on the final bill) and the Senate is expected to pass the bill today or tomorrow. The hot topic has been the Tester Amendment, which provides exemptions for small and local farmers from the new regulations. The Tester Amendment will likely pass, but H.R. 2749, the House version of the Food Safety Bill, was passed without a similar provision. The two bills will have to be merged and whether or not the Tester Amendment will survive that step is unclear.
If the Tester Amendment is indeed included in the Senate bill, then it is scheduled to be our next 90 Second Summary (that will be Monday).
For Episode 7, we look ahead to next month’s lame duck session and preview a bill likely to be examined in the Senate in the first week back. The “food safety bill” enjoys strong bipartisan support and is likely to receive over 90 Senate votes if it gets that far, but is being blocked from consideration by Sen. Coburn for budgetary reasons.
Its fate at this point will be determined almost entirely by the amount of floor time Democratic leaders are willing to spend on it. But in case you’d like to nudge them one way or the other and want to learn more beforehand, here’s the skinny on S. 510, The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.
S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
Sponsor: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Key cosponsors: Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY) Click here to download this summary (pdf)
Status: Motion to proceed to floor debate filed 9/29. Held up by Sen. Coburn. May be revisited in lame duck session.
House Companion: H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, passed the House in July 2009 by a 283-142 margin. Similar but not identical. The more direct, but still not identical, companion is H.R. 1332, Safe FEAST Act of 2009.
Purpose: Significant gaps exist in America’s food safety paradigm. We have witnessed numerous outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in recent years, affecting items such as spinach, eggs, peanuts and pet food. According to Sen. Durbin, nearly 76 million Americans are affected by foodborne illnesses each year, hospitalizing 325,000 and killing 5,000. Yet the FDA lacks the authority and resources to adequately regulate the nation’s food supply given these new and daunting challenges.
Summary: This legislation would expand the powers of the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies to fortify the food safety framework. Particular new abilities include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Conduct more frequent inspections, including required annual inspections of high-risk facilities
• Set forth requirements for mandatory testing
• Order mandatory recalls after allowing responsible parties the opportunity to cease distribution voluntarily
• Shut down facilities in consistent violation of safety regulations
• Access records to determine the source of an outbreak
• Produce more comprehensive tracking and data collection methods
• Establish standards and regulations, and issue guidance documents to ensure firms are aware of these standards
• Help state, local and tribal governments stay prepared to handle agriculture and food emergencies
• Ensure that imported products meet the same standards imposed upon domestically produced food
See the full CRS bill summary (link below) for further details.
Supporters: President Obama, Consumer Federation of America, Grocery Manufacturers Association, etc.
• Supporters view this legislation as a long overdue modernization of the nation’s food safety system, saving lives and averting the substantial economic costs resulting from food-borne illnesses.
Opposition: Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, etc.
• Opponents see this as a costly and burdensome intrusion into the food industry, one that could put independent and organic producers out of business. Small and sustainable farms may be exempted from certain regulations in the version that ultimately reaches the floor, potentially mitigating their opposition.
Check back on Wednesday for our first Sponsor Special with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3).
Earlier this month, President Obama announced a proposal to create a a new government-owned corporation called the Infrastructure Bank. The initiative (at least the version introduced in Congress) would presumably reinvigorate the economy with infrastructure investments, by leveraging $25 billion of initial funding over five years into as much as $625 billion of project investment through bonding and other market mechanisms.
Although the bill itself isn’t scheduled for action, hearings this week in both the House and Senate may address the Infrastructure Bank concept directly. Given the heightened focus on this initiative in recent weeks and the glaring need for greater infrastructure spending in the United States, we felt this would make for a timely 90 Second Summary.
Status: In Energy & Commerce and Transportation & Infrastructure Committees. Financial Services has partial jurisdiction. Not scheduled for action.
Senate Companion: None in the 111th Congress. A similar but not identical bill was introduced by Sens. Dodd and Hagel in the 110th Congress (S. 1926).
Purpose: In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a grade of D, and estimated the 5-year need for investment at some $2.2 trillion. The Infrastructure Bank provides a funding mechanism for a variety of projects through public-private partnerships that will help close the “infrastructure gap”.
Summary: H.R. 2521 would establish an independent, wholly-owned government corporation called the National Infrastructure Development Bank. Following a $25 billion initial capitalization, it would be a self-sustaining entity capable of leveraging as much as $625 billion in private investment by issuing direct loans and subsidies, loan guarantees, bonds and debt securities, borrowing on the global capital market at low interest rates and pooling infrastructure-related loans and securities on the market to spread risk. The Bank would help capitalize the following:
1) Transportation Infrastructure Projects (e.g. public transit, highway and bridge repairs, port development)
2) Environmental Infrastructure Projects (e.g. drinking water treatment, waste disposal facilities, dams and levees)
3) Energy Infrastructure Projects (e.g. retrofitting buildings, smart grid, development of renewable capacity)
4) Telecommunications Infrastructure Projects (e.g. broadband expansion)
The legislation lays out a set of criteria for each project type by which each applicant must be evaluated to determine potential impact and eligibility. These generally involve environmental, health and income distribution considerations as well as more traditional cost-effectiveness criteria and other sector-specific factors.
The Bank will be governed by a five-member Board of Directors, all appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Directors will represent different regions of the country and be split between the private and public sectors in their backgrounds. The Bank’s charter is scheduled to sunset after 15 years.
CBO Score: None provided.
Supporters: President Obama, Building America’s Future (state & local electeds), Chamber of Commerce, SEIU, etc.
• Supporters believe this measure will substantially boost crucial infrastructure spending and create jobs. It will also allow for a more efficient allocation of infrastructure resources by removing political considerations.
Opposition: No public opposition, but expected to draw fire from a variety of fronts, each for a different reason.
• Opposition will likely be opposed to a large new government program, especially a government-owned bank similar to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There is also some concern over transferring infrastructure financing authority from Congress to an unelected board appointed by the President.
H.R. 1751: American Dream Act (aka DREAM Act)
Sponsor: Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA28)
Primary Co-sponsors: Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL21), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA34) Click here to download this summary (pdf)
Cosponsors: 128 (123 Democrats, 5 Republicans). Full list at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:HR01751:@@@P
Status: In Education and Labor and Judiciary Committees. Not scheduled for action.
Senate Companion: S. 729: Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). A version of the DREAM Act has been included in the defense authorization bill, which will be on the Senate floor this week.
Purpose: There is currently no path for undocumented immigrant children to obtain permanent status. This legislation would create a mechanism for doing so if said children meet a number of conditions.
Summary: The DREAM Act amends the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to allow undocumented immigrants to become conditional permanent residents and receive higher education benefits if they:
1) Are between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of enactment (Senate bill only);
2) Entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday and have been living here for at least five years;
3) Have been admitted to a college or university, or have received their high school diploma or GED;
4) Are “of good moral character” (the technical term for an upstanding member of society).
All eligible immigrants will be granted “conditional permanent resident” status for six years, and during that time must either complete two years of a higher education degree program or serve for two years in the military. Conditional permanent residents would not be eligible for federal Pell Grants, but could apply for other programs such as loans and work study. After that period, if they meet all requirements they will obtain permanent residency with a path to eventual citizenship. However, if they do not meet the educational or military service requirement, or commit a felony or drug-related offense, their status is immediately revoked and they are subject to deportation proceedings.
The legislation also requires a GAO report within 7 years providing performance measures and related information.
One point of clarification: Critics have claimed the bill forces states to offer in-state tuition to eligible immigrants, but it merely allows them to do so.
CBO Score: none provided. CBO did score the DREAM Act in 2002 and estimated costs of $364 million for the 2003-2012 period.
Supporters: America’s Voice, National Immigration Law Center, higher education organizations, President Obama, etc.
• Supporters consider this measure a more piecemeal alternative to comprehensive immigration reform, but a necessary first step. It will provide previously unavailable opportunities to thousands of undocumented young adults each year, increase the national tax base and boost military recruitment.
Opposition: NumbersUSA, Federation for American Immigration Reform, many social conservative organizations
• Opposition mostly claims this measure will encourage further illegal immigration, have a detrimental fiscal effect, decrease job opportunities for American citizens, and serve as a key stepping stone to full amnesty.
Full bill text: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1751
Official CRS summary: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1751&tab=summary
National Immigration Law Center info hub: http://nilc.org/immlawpolicy/DREAM/index.htm
America’s Voice DREAM Act portal: http://americasvoiceonline.org/index.php/dream
Federation for American Immigration Reform information: http://www.fairus.org/site/PageServer?pagename=dream_act_amnesty
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