A major food safety bill, stalled in the Senate since last summer, will not pass this year, despite a recent push from the Democrats and a tail wind provided by last month's salmonella outbreak.
"We're not going to be able to get this done before we go home for the elections," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on the Senate floor, according to CQ Politics.
The sweeping reform to the nation's food safety monitoring and enforcement cleared the House in July 2009. It would have given federal regulators more power to recall tainted products and increased inspection standards and frequency.
Supporters had hoped the drama surrounding the egg recall would get the bill moving, and as late as Tuesday, Reid seemed hopeful. But late-game opposition from Tom Coburn, R-Okla., slowed and finally killed the legislation. Coburn said he would block the bill until the Democrats could figure out a way to cover its cost, calculated at $1.4 billion over five years.
Coburn also criticized the "weak mechanisms" and "ineffective implementation" in the current food safety system and said the public would be better served by increasing its efficiency rather than spending money on new protections.
"Without paying for this bill, at best we are just passing it for a press release, and at worst, we shackle the FDA with unfunded mandates," reads a memo from Coburn's office.
But backers argued that the bill was necessary to protect public health. Along with this summer's recall of a half-billion eggs for possible salmonella contamination, there have been a number of other recent high-profile food scares, covering everything from peanut butter to lettuce and ground beef. Food safety advocates worry that without the bill, that cycle will continue.
Bill Marler, an attorney focusing on food safety who has been watching the bill for a decade, worries that Coburn's call for more debate might be the final nail in the coffin.
If the Republicans take the Senate, he told AOL News, "that would mean that the bill is done, and we'll likely never see it again, at least for a generation."
Among Marler's clients is Linda Rivera, a Las Vegas resident -- and Reid constituent -- who suffered a stroke, kidney failure and liver failure after eating E. coli-tainted cookie dough. She remains hospitalized and so far has accumulated $4.5 million in medical costs, according to Marler.
"Some people are bothered by the cost of this legislation," he said. "But the cost of not passing this legislation has to account for more people like Linda Rivera."