Washington — So close. And still so far.
Instead of yeas and nays in the much-anticipated May 26 vote on a bill that would that would update the laws governing the manufacture, transportation and regulation of chemicals in the United States, what people heard as they followed efforts to update the Toxic Substances Control Act sounded more like screeching brakes in the U.S. Senate.
More than two years of hard work and careful negotiations was put on hold by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who refused to let the bill be approved under unanimous consent.
Unanimous consent is a parliamentary procedure used daily in the Senate to move bills along when they are non-controversial or have been otherwise heavily negotiated and tweaked. Under the process, the bill would be deemed passed unless a single senator objected — which Paul did.
“This bill came here on Tuesday. It's 180 pages long. It involves new criminalization, new crimes that will be created at the federal level. It includes preemption of states,” Paul said on the Senate floor Thursday. “And so I think it deserves to be read, to be understood and to be debated, and so I object to just rushing this through and saying ‘Oh, you can't read the bill'.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), one of the primary architects of the bill, criticized Paul for his objection from the floor, saying the bill has been available for any member to review for a week.
“No one objects to all members of the Senate reading the bill. I encourage all members of the Senate to read the bill,” Vitter said. “I regret an objection to this very reasonable path forward.”
While Paul's block doesn't doom the bill, the Senate now has to wait at least two weeks to consider the bill without his consent, between procedural rules and the chamber's recess next week for Memorial Day.
Industry was less than thrilled at the most recent pothole in the already bumpy road to chemical regulation reform.
“We are sincerely disappointed that Sen. Paul has decided to stand in the way of efforts to provide greater certainty and clarity to industry while holding EPA to strict accountability and transparency requirements,” said the American Chemistry Council in a statement. “Sen. Paul's decision to block final passage of legislation to bring chemical regulation into the 21st century is putting the brakes on common sense policy that will have far-reaching benefits for America's economy and public health. We hope Sen. Paul will quickly reconsider his position.”
To be sure, the move is a momentum killer, especially after it appeared to be smooth sailing for the bill after resolving intense and difficult negotiations with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who had serious problems with some sections of the TSCA update.
The final version of the bipartisan bill sailed through the House earlier in the week on a 403-12 roll call vote and was expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama before the Memorial Day break.