Congress today knocked H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, off the fast track.   It fell six votes short of achieving the two-thirds necessary to pass without amendments under a suspension of House rules.

In the next couple of days, it will come up under regular order, meaning it can be adopted with a simple majority after being subjected to amendments on the floor.

However, the 280-150 vote H.R. 2749 won today was proof positive that there is still one master lawmaker in the House. 

The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 is the bipartisan product of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and its prime sponsor, Michigan’s John Dingell.

For years, Dingell chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee. He lost the post before the 111th Congress convened in a 137-122 caucus vote to the more liberal Henry Waxman of California.

Dingell, who has served in Congress since 1955, used the time he gained by not being chairman to focus on legislation, like the food safety reform, that he really cares about.

He  built H.R. 2749 initially by molding it out of legislation that was introduced by Committee Democrats. He used the regular bill markup sessions to work with Committee Republicans and ended up with a unanimous bipartisan vote to get H.R. 2749 to the floor.

Prior to today’s floor action, Dingell worked with both the Majority and Minority on the House Agriculture Committee – eliminating feed grains and livestock from the bill for example—with enough changes to require three re-writes of the bill by late morning.

Clearly, Dingell’s spade work on both sides of the isle and crossing committee lines was helped move 50 Republicans to vote for the bill today. In an age of fierce partisanship and the Majority Party locking the Minority out of the process entirely, Dingell provided an unusual steady and fair hand at the helm.

“We are handling this bill in the way it should be handled in the proper bipartisan fashion,” Dingell said.

And after the GOP Floor Leader complained about new versions of the bill being filed right up until the House went into session, Rep. Joe Barton , the ranking Republican on the Energy & Commerce Committee, said:

"What our Minority Leader said is true, but as Paul Harvey use to say, it is not the rest of the story. Those different bills have been introduced as a result of changes I’ve asked for…In this bill, in this case…we have had an open bipartisan process.

That’s why 280 Members of Congress are now on record supporting H.R. 2749, and why it will pass the House before the August recess.