President Obama, after his meeting Tuesday with Republican Congressional leaders, characterized the conversation as "productive" and suggested that he thought he could work with the likes of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell.
The president might want to think again.
On the same day that McConnell was presenting himself as a serious senator who could find common ground with the president and Democrats on issues of consequence to the nation, he cast a vote that confirmed his unwillingness to swim in the mainstream.
If there is one issue that ought to unite members of Congress from both parties and all ideologies, it is food safety.
Yet, when the Senate voted Tuesday on the Food Safety and Modernization Act, the first significant expansion of the authority of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to inspect and protect the nation’s food supply, twenty-five senators said "no."
The Senate vote on this bipartisan bill was a lopsided one, with seventy-three members (all the Democrats, fifteen Republicans, Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders) backing the food safety bill. But it is nothing short of remarkable that twenty-five members—all Republicans—voted "no" on a measure that not so many years ago might reasonably have been expected to pass unanimously.
Who were the twenty-five who voted "no"?
Some of the opposition came from outliers like Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, some from extremists like South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. But topping the list of the "no" votes was the senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell.
McConnell voted against giving the FDA the power to recall contaminated food.
McConnell voted against establishing a system of efficient and up-to-date record keeping so that it is possible to track and address public health threats before they become public health crises.
McConnell voted against what National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson—a veteran North Dakota agriculture official who is about as measured and responsible a player as you will find on food inspection issues—describes as "a historic bill, one that ensures our nation has a safe food supply."
Johnson and others lobbied for the bill because they want American farmers, food processors and consumers to be on the same page when it comes to food safety. As the NFU president say:"This new authority will allow the FDA to be more proactive in heading off potential problems. For many years, because of its limited resources and authority, the FDA has been a reactive agency, taking action only after something had become a major issue."
Why would anyone vote against this kind of progress?
Why would anyone vote against taking basis steps to insure that food produced and consumed in the United States?
That’s a question for Mitch McConnell.
The question for Barack Obama is a different one.
What makes the president believe he can work in a realistic or meaningful way with a senator who votes against giving the FDA the power to recall contaminated food?