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Senate passes un-COOL spending bill

The bill, which was passed Thursday, wrapped seven spending bills covering 11 government departments into one package for the new fiscal year that began last Oct. 1. A stopgap measure that funded the departments at FY2003 levels was scheduled to expire Jan. 31.

Earlier in the week, Senate Democrats had warned of roadblocks if language delaying country of origin labeling for two years was included in the government spending bill for the 2004 fiscal year. Other issues of contention by Senate Democrats included provisions relaxing both overtime rules for some white collar workers and the rules regarding media consolidation.

However, many of those voting against the bill changed their vote the second time around. Senators voted 65 to 28 in favor of the fiscal year 2004 Omnibus Appropriations Conference Report, which will now go to the President for his signature.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was not among the majority in support of the spending bill because of provisions in the bill that would delay implementation of country-of-origin labeling, weaken limits on media concentration, and relax overtime rules for some jobs.

"On Tuesday, the Senate voted to delay consideration of the omnibus appropriations bill,” said Daschle. “At that time, I said that the Republican Majority should be given a few days to fix the most glaring problems - provisions that have already been rejected by both chambers of Congress but were inserted into the Omnibus in the dark of night by the Republican leadership.”

“These are problems that could easily have been fixed. The Majority chose not to do so, leaving us with policies that defy common sense, the will of the House and the Senate, and the wishes and best interests of the American people.”

Daschle said, “Let us be clear. The passage of the Omnibus in no way means that Democrats will give up on these essential fights. Democrats will spare no effort to make these changes this year.

“The Senate, on an overwhelming vote, supported the notion that America should have country-of-origin labeling for food products because it enhances food safety, promotes consumer confidence and consumer choice, supports American ranchers and farmers, and gives a much-needed boost to the rural economy. Yet the House, and some in the White House, insisted on a two-year delay. A two-year delay would kill country-of-origin labeling.”

Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., put a different slant on the vote.

Applauding passage of the bill, Frist says, “This funding will create jobs, spur the economy and encourage continued growth. From riverfront development and historic preservation projects to healthcare and education initiatives, this funding will contribute to the Delta region’s economic growth and success.”

Daschle adds, “There was never a threat that the government would be shut down, despite what some of our Republican colleagues have said. Simply, we wanted to give our colleagues a chance to fix this legislation. They have chosen not to fix any of these issues. But we will be back. The Senate should never look the other way while a powerful minority overrides the will of the majority to reward one special interest after another.”

Farm groups like the National Farmers Union also were unhappy with the Senate’s approval of the omnibus spending bill.

"I am appalled that this attack on the country-of-origin food labeling law was not debated in public," says the group’s president Dave Frederickson. "At the insistence of the Bush administration, congressional leadership slipped this delay into the comprehensive spending bill behind closed doors and at the expense of consumers, American farmers and our trading relationships."

However, Frederickson said this will not be the final push to implement mandatory country-of-origin labeling by the end of the year. “Farmers Union will be working with COOL supporters in Congress to make sure country-of-origin labeling shows up again in other must-pass legislative vehicles in 2004,” he says.

"U.S. farmers want COOL, 82 percent of American consumers request it, and the U.S. Senate directed conferees not to include the COOL delay in the omnibus spending bill," he said. "It is unfortunate that Congress and the administration would ultimately ignore the will of so many Americans to benefit a handful of companies."


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