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FDA Food Safety Modernization Act--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, we have just invoked cloture on the food safety bill, and I think it is important for the American people to know what that means. That means we are going to spend another $1.4 billion of their money. No. 2, we are going to raise the cost of food over the next year, and therefore we are at about $200 million to $300 million. We set $141 billion per year in unfunded mandates on the States if we pass this bill, and we didn't fix the real problem with food safety in this country, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The other point I wish to make is that we went through this process over the last week and a half with no amendments being allowed--no amendments being allowed--which really violates the spirit of the Senate. We could have finished this bill probably the week before Thanksgiving had amendments been allowed.

The thing Washington gets wrong--it is not their intent, it is not their well-meaning desire to fix problems that are in front of the country--what Washington gets wrong is they think spending more money and setting up a ton more regulations will fix problems, and it doesn't. What it does is it raises costs. So we are going to see a lot of small food manufacturers no longer making food. We are going to raise the cost of our food and, by the way, see significant increases--if I could have my charts on the floor, I would appreciate it--this year in food, and we are going to see that extended, but we are not going to fix the real issue.

Food safety is on the minds of everybody in this country because of the recent 500 billion egg recall in this country. It is important to know what went on there. It is important to note that the head of the FDA, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, said had their rule been in existence, we wouldn't have had that problem of salmonella with eggs. They promulgated the finished rule around the time of the salmonella infection and contamination on the eggs.

The problem with that is it took 10 years to develop that rule. Nobody has asked why it took 10 years. Nobody had a hearing before we passed this rule to say: How did we allow this to happen? But we took 10 years.

Senator Harkin has the right idea on food safety. He didn't get it proper, that bill, because he couldn't get it through, but his idea is that we need one food safety organization, not three, and we now have three, and we are going to exacerbate that problem with the bill on which we just deemed cloture.

The intent of my colleagues is great, but, as somebody trained in the art of medicine, what I see in this bill is different from what you see in this bill. You see, I see the problem is not lacking regulatory authority; the problem is not holding the regulators in their expertise and carrying out the authority they have. How do I know that for sure? Because it wasn't a week after the recall on the eggs on the salmonella scare that we had two FDA inspectors cross-contaminating farms in Iowa, not even following their own regulations. This doesn't do anything for that because the only thing that is going to fix the real problems with food safety in this country is us holding the regulators accountable, not giving them a whole bunch more regulations, and we haven't done that. We have failed to do that.

It is not just in food safety. The reason we have a $1.3 trillion deficit is because we don't hold agencies accountable. We are going to have a debate in a minute on earmarks, and we are going to hear it put forward that the only way we can control it is to direct money ourselves. That is just absolutely an untruth. The way you can direct where money gets spent in this country is having oversight on the agencies and them knowing you are going to look every time on how they are spending the money and make them justify it. But the fact is, we are not looking because we have decided we will take ours and we will put our $16 billion over here, and you, administration, can take your money and put your money where you want to put it. That is the real debate on earmarks. There is nothing in our oath that says anything about our obligation to our State to bring money back to it. And the hidden little secret on earmarks is that they are used as much as a political tool as they are to claim ``I am doing something good for my State.''

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I just want to show my colleagues the difference. One of the motions we will vote on on suspending the rules tomorrow is, here is S. 510, 280 pages of new rules and new regulations. Here is the alternative, which is one-sixth of that. This one costs $1.4 billion in direct costs, $400 billion in food increased costs, and $141 million in mandatory new spending, mandates to the States. This one does none of that.

What does this bill do? This bill uses common sense to say what really controls our food safety. Our food safety is controlled by market forces more than anything. And if you look at our history on foodborne contamination, we are by far the safest in the world, and our rates have been coming down since 1996. Over the last 14 years, our rates have come down in terms of foodborne illnesses.

I am not fighting against food safety; I am fighting for common sense. What we see in the bill we are going to vote on versus the alternative which I am going to offer is one builds and grows the government, one raises the cost of government, and ultimately we will be taxed to pay for that. One raises the price of food and one puts unfunded mandates on the States.

I am saying that we can accomplish exactly the same goal as my chairman, the Senator from Iowa, would like to accomplish without 280 pages of new rules and regulations. So what do we do? We require the FDA and the USDA to immediately establish a comprehensive plan to share their data. They have agreements to share data, but they don't share the data, so we force them to do that. We require a strategic plan for updating their health information technology systems, which the Government Accountability Office for the last 5 years has been saying is their No. 1 problem. We require the FDA to submit a plan to expeditiously approve new food safety technologies and more effectively communicate those technologies to the industry and consumers. We leverage the free market existing food safety activities by allowing the FDA to accredit third-party inspectors, and we provide unlimited new authority without imposing new costs or additional regulatory burdens. These new authorities intend to better leverage the free markets and focus resources on preventing foodborne illness and contamination. They include emergency access to records, clarifying the HACCP authority relating to high-risk foods, and allowing the FDA to develop strategic international relationships.

What will this bill do? It will fix the real problem: ineffective government, ineffective bureaucracies. What we are going to do when we pass the food safety bill that is on the floor is we are going to grow the government. We are going to create more barriers. We are going to raise the cost, and we are still going to have foodborne illnesses.

So I will end with that and move over to earmarks. I know I have several colleagues who wish to speak about it. I am not going to spend a long time on it. We have debated it and debated it. The fact is that this country did just fine for the first 200 years without the first earmark. And when anybody in the Senate in the first 200 years in this country tried the earmark, they got shouted down in this body because they were told their responsibility was to the country as a whole, not to the privileged, well-connected, well-knowing few who helped them come up here.

We have a problem, and the problem isn't earmarks; the problem is the confidence of the American people. They see the conflicts of interest associated with earmarks. It is not wrong to want to help your State. It is not wrong to go through an authorizing process where your colleagues can actually see it. It is wrong to hide something in a bill that benefits you and the well-heeled few without it being shown in light to the American people.

If we are to solve the major problems that are in front of this country over the next 2 or 3 years--and they are the largest we have ever seen, they are the biggest problems we have ever seen in this country--we have to restore the confidence of the American people.

Utilization of an earmark is not our prerogative; it is our pleasure. We claim a power that we have in fact created. We do direct where the money goes. But we should never do it with a conflict of interest that benefits just those we represent from our States or just those who help us become Senators. All we have to do is look at campaign contributions and earmarks, and there is a stinky little secret associated with that: the correlation is close to one. That is not something this body should embrace, tolerate, or stand for.

The American people expect us to be transparent, aboveboard, doing the best, right thing for the country as a whole. The real process is that the Appropriations Committee ignores authorizing committees; $380 billion a year in discretionary funds are appropriated every year that are unauthorized. With that rebuff of the authorizing committees, they also put in any earmarks they want or that any other Member wants. It is time that stops. It is time we re-earn the trust of the American people.

With that, I yield to my colleague, the Senator from Arizona.

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