- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2005

Congress works in strange ways and sometimes what we think is a done deal is in fact only half done. Last month, for example, the Senate passed an amendment attached to the agriculture appropriations bill which would effectively ban horse slaughter in this country for one year. The amendment passed 69-28. The amendment was identical in language to a House amendment which passed in June by a vote of 269-158.

If you remember your high school civics course, at this point, both bills, with their attached amendments, would then go to a conference committee to hammer out differences in order to hand the president a single bill to sign. Curious things happen in conference committees, especially to items on one version of the bill, but not on the other. Language is changed, amendments that might have failed to pass one chamber are dropped — truly, what Bismarck referred to as the making of sausages. The ideal is to get a bill that matches as closely as possible the two separate bills voted on in both chambers.

Now, most people would expect an amendment, overwhelmingly passed in both houses of Congress with identical language, to be pretty safe from the conference committee chopping block. We would. But we would also be wrong. There are a few lawmakers adamant about stripping the horse slaughter amendment from the final bill. Why? It probably has something to do with the cattle industry, which holds considerable sway in Texas where two of the three horse slaughter plants are located.

They also probably think they can get away with it. Once a senator or congressman has registered his vote, whatever happens to a bill is pretty much out of his hands, or so he can argue later. In other words, just because the horse slaughter amendment passed both chambers doesn’t mean there will be a vociferous bloc to protect it in committee. And since most of this goes on behind closed doors, few expect anyone to notice.

Of course, those who fought hard for the amendment are outraged, as well they should be. Those less invested in the slaughtering of horses should nevertheless be just as angry that a few lawmakers can thwart the will of Congress. It will be interesting to hear committee members explain how an amendment the American people assumed was as good as law failed to make it into the final bill.

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