The bill, in the end, passed in a 398-1 vote under a suspension of the rules, shocking outsiders who had seen how contentious TSCA reform had been in the past.
“I don’t think the House authors have gotten the credit they deserve for influencing the debate,” said Andy Igrejas, executive director of the coalition Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which has not endorsed the House bill but thinks it is a good base. “It got less attention, but ironically that’s because of the work they put in to get the bill to that point.”
With the Senate bill out of committee, sponsors started looking for floor time, but with a packed floor agenda, they wanted to minimize the time it would take up. By July, the bill was up to 52 cosponsors, but sponsors acknowledged that their chances would be better if they could prove they had 60 votes to fend off a filibuster.
But as they worked to recruit more, Udall and Vitter had a goal in mind: keep a one-for-one balance between the parties.
“In this political atmosphere, it’s important for this to be a true bipartisan bill,” Vitter said. “It hasn’t been so much difficult, as it’s been very time consuming. It’s not unique to the subject matter, I think it’s more about this Congress and this Senate.”
That meant a lot of “good old-fashioned legislating,” as Udall called it. Individual members had pet concerns. Delaware’s Christopher Coons, a chemistry major, had been pushing for green chemistry and research provisions. New Jersey’s Booker wanted limits on animal testing.
Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and a supporter of the bill, recalled that at one press conference, Vitter was running late and Inhofe realized he was the only Republican on a stage with “all of the very-far Left.”
“I’m looking around and I thought, ‘Am I really doing the right thing here?’” Inhofe said.
Whitehouse pointed out that Udall had taken a lot of friendly fire from the Left in the early stages.
“I think he signed on not because he really liked the bill as it was, but because he saw the prospect of a bipartisan bill and could be a link and drive it to where it is today,” Whitehouse said.
In a press conference, Booker looked at Udall and said, “You’ve got scars. When you go to heaven, God doesn’t judge you by how good you look, but by how many scars you have, and this is one.”
Markey, who had at one point allied with Boxer, and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin finally signed on in October after months of negotiating, becoming the 59th and 60th supporters. The two had worked together on various toxics issues (including a July effort to get asbestos out of children’s toys) and had been pressing Udall to keep negotiating the bill, despite Markey’s alliance with Boxer.
The two finally came on after Udall and Vitter agreed to a new package that would set deadlines for industry to comply with EPA regulations, increase the fees paid by industry and accelerate action on a list of chemicals identified as high risk. It also simplifies the process for states to keep enforcing their own laws amid federal action.