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Harkin Holds Out Hope for Food Safety Bill

Sen. Tom Harkin said Wednesday that he hopes to put a derailed food safety bill back on track to final passage as soon as this week, despite a threat of a filibuster by Senate Republicans.

The Iowa Democrat said that he has spoken with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders and that he hopes the chamber will pass a new version of the bill to send to the Senate before the end of the week.

“We’re working on it now. I think we can get it done soon … hopefully before the end of the week,” said Harkin, who authored the bill’s language.

But he acknowledged that Republicans could filibuster the measure, forcing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to file cloture and burn several more days on a measure that has already consumed much of the lame-duck session.

After days of debate and negotiation with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who opposes the measure, Harkin was able to clear the way to passage Tuesday, only to see the bill derailed by what he called a “clerical error.”

Because the measure includes a set of new fees, it is considered a tax measure and must originate in the House under the Constitution. Harkin’s bill, however, originated in the Senate and therefore violated the Constitution. House Democrats and Republicans alike have threatened to use the “blue slip” procedure to block the measure if Pelosi tries to bring it for a vote.

As a result, the House will have to pass a new version of the bill — one that will likely be identical to the Senate-passed measure — and send it to the Senate for a vote. That process could open a renewed round of procedural challenges by Coburn, who could stretch the process out for days before a final vote can occur.

John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said he and other Republicans would continue to try to block the bill if it comes to the Senate. “Dr. Coburn supports a recall of the tainted food safety bill. He will not support passing the bill by unanimous consent, nor will any Republican,” Hart said.

The House blue-slips the Senate when it passes a resolution declaring that a Senate bill violates the Constitution by initiating revenue legislation in the wrong chamber. The bill is returned to the Senate with the resolution, which is printed on blue paper. 

Blue slips have plagued a number of high-profile bills this year, including a border security measure, an Iran sanctions bill and the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. It also forced lengthy delays in completing the Travel Promotion Act, which was a key piece of Reid’s re-election campaign.

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