Senate Democrats say an error in the food-safety bill passed Tuesday can be resolved in time to send the legislation to President Obama by the end of the year.
Two senior leadership aides confirmed the bill the Senate approved, 73-25, inadvertently contained tax provisions that, under the Constitution, must originate in the House of Representatives. That means the bill must be passed a second time by the Senate, giving critics such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) another chance to block it.
Yet the aides said another vote can be successfully held before 2011.
"We are confident that we can work with our House colleagues to find a path forward and get this bill to the president before the end of the year," one of the aides said.
While the changes themselves might not be too complicated, the Senate will have a much tougher time passing the bill again. Coburn is expected to object to passage by unanimous consent, as he has in the past, and Senate Republican leaders say their caucus won't vote on any bills until the expiring tax cuts are dealt with.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) indicated Wednesday the House was prepared to move on the Senate bill.
"While we think our bill was much better, we're prepared to pass a bill along the lines that they passed," he said. "Unfortunately, they passed a bill which is not consistent with the Constitution of the United States.
"It has to be a House bill, because it has revenues in it. ...That's a constitutional requirement. ....The Senate knows this rule, and should follow this rule. ...Nobody ought to be surprised by this rule."
Hoyer said he met Wednesday morning with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the sponsor of the Senate version, about the constitutionality question.
"I'm hopeful that we will pass that back to the Senate in a corrected version. ... I presume they'll be able to pass it — it passed pretty handily in the Senate."
Hoyer said he's also spoken with the chief proponents of the bill — including Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) — who had been pushing for the stronger House version. The implication was that those lawmakers have agreed to accept something weaker, like the Senate bill.
— This post was updated at 1:46 p.m.