Democrats Run Afoul of that Pesky Constitution Again

by Daniel Foster

A procedural error could turn into quite the embarrassment for Senate Democrats, as their much-ballyhooed Food Safety Bill could be blocked by House members because it — violates the Constitution.

See, Section 107 of the bill includes new fees classified as revenue-raising taxes, meaning that under the Constitution it should have originated in the House. That it didn’t has irked some House Democrats, especially on the Ways and Means Committee, and they might push to blue-slip the bill.

Roll Call reports:

The debacle could prove to be a major embarrassment for Senate Democrats, who sought Tuesday to make the relatively unknown bill a major political issue by sending out numerous news releases trumpeting its passage.

“We understand there is a blue slip problem, and we expect the House to assert its rights under the Constitution to be the place where revenue bills begin,” the GOP aide said.

[. . .]

The blue slip could lead to one of two likely outcomes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could simply drop the issue and let the next session of Congress start from scratch, a strategy that would allow him time in the lame-duck session to tackle other last-minute priorities, such as the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, a long-term continuing resolution, an immigration bill and a repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members.

This would undoubtedly leave some egg on Reid’s face, but the alternative presents even greater challenges:

Or he could try to force the issue in the Senate after the House passes a new version of the bill. But in order to do that and still tackle the other issues, he would need a unanimous consent agreement to limit debate.

According to Senate GOP aides, a unanimous consent agreement is all but certain to be a nonstarter because the bill’s chief opponent, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), will not agree to such a deal.

Coburn “will object and demand changes as [he has] from the get-go,” a GOP aide familiar with the situation said.

And all the while the clock is ticking on the current Democratic majorities.