Food Safety Bill, OSHA Nominee Approved by Senate Panel

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee met this morning to mark up the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) and to vote on the nomination of David Michaels to serve as head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Committee unanimously approved the food safety bill by voice vote. The bill, similar to a House version passed in July, would expand the FDA’s regulatory authority over food products. Specifically, it would allow the agency to order mandatory recalls of tainted food products (a power it does not currently possess) and implement a program to collect fees from certain food facilities to fund increased safety inspections, among other provisions.

After approving the food safety bill, several senators moved hastily toward the committee room doorways, but Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) reminded them that business remained on the table. (It was about 11:00 am, so many senators had been awake for several hours and probably needed to get to lunch.)

The committee then approved by voice vote the nomination of David Michaels. Committee Republicans Tom Coburn (OK) and Richard Burr (NC) requested they be recorded as “no” votes. Their opposition could portend further difficulty when the nomination reaches the floor.

The HELP Committee voted on Michaels despite failing to hold a confirmation hearing. As I have mentioned before, I think bypassing the hearing was a mistake. OSHA is a major regulatory agency, and the leaders of such agencies should, as a rule of thumb, go before the Senate committee of jurisdiction to explain their views and qualifications. A hearing also would have provided an opportunity for Harkin and others to voice their support for Michaels on the record, and to explain exactly why he is well-qualified to lead OSHA. Michaels has been criticized, unfairly in my opinion, by some of those who fear he would take a proactive role in writing and enforcing protections for workers. (More here.)

During the hearing, the HELP Committee also approved the nomination of Pamela S. Hyde to be Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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