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America's Effort to End Horse Slaughter
Part Four of a Series

The Senate-House Conference Committee.

As explained in Part Three, Senate-House Conference Committees are formed with members from both the Senate and House of Representatives to reconcile differences in the House and Senate versions of bills passed by Congress. Occasionally powerful legislators will use a Conference Committee as a means to "strip" (remove) legislation that they don't like, even though the legislation being stripped was passed by a significant majority of both the House and the Senate. (We doubt our Founding Fathers ever intended to see the Conference Committee process abused in such a way.)

However a few underhanded characters experienced in abusing the legislative process were on this Committee. As their last names all start with the letter "B," they have been dubbed as the Killer Bees.

Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) was on the committee. Senator Burns had gone into somewhat of a rage when the Senate passed the Ensign - Byrd Amendment and had vowed to "Throw it out!"

Senator Burns' wing man, Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) also went to work to strip the anti-slaughter language that had been voted in favor by over 300 Congressional legislators.

Congressman Henry Bonilla (R-TX) headed this joint committee. Ironically two of the country's three horse slaughter plants are located in Bonilla's state, Texas. Bonilla, who had aims of secretly stripping the anti-slaughter language in a "smoke filled room" approach to legislation was confronted directly by Senator Mary Landreau (D-LA).

The following are excerpts from Horseplay on the Hill, written by Benjamin Grove of the Las Vegas Sun's Washington Bureau.

WASHINGTON -- Members of a House-Senate panel are quietly planning to kill legislation designed to stop horse slaughter, sources close to the process told the Sun this week.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., would ban federal funding for inspectors at the nation's three slaughterhouses that process horses for human consumption, which would effectively shut down the plants. The plants sell the meat overseas.

The House approved the legislation 269-158, and the Senate approved it 69-28. The provision is part of an agriculture spending bill.

That broader bill is now being finalized by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators. Sources have said that several panel members want to remove the horse provision using parliamentary rules that could allow them to do it outside a public meeting.

Two of the slaughterhouses are in Texas, the home state of the committee's chairman, Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla.

At Tuesday's meeting, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a member of the committee and a strong supporter of Ensign's legislation, demanded that the provision be removed in public if it is to be removed at all. But Bonilla rejected that request.

Another opponent of Ensign's legislation, Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said he supports taking the provision out. When asked if he would take the action himself, Burns said, "We haven't made the decision yet."

Landrieu was livid that the panel's Republican leaders gave themselves the option of acting outside the view of the public.

"They reserved the right to overturn the will of the majority of the Congress, and they might do it -- in the dark of night," Landrieu told the Sun.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said he fully expected that Ensign's provision will be removed later.

"These guys have become masters at having pretend conferences," Obey said. "In the end, they go in and do whatever they damn well please."

(Please read the complete and unedited story.)

In discovering this treachery, thousands of American Citizens phoned, wrote and emailed their legislators demanding accountability and that the anti-slaughter language survive. Committee manipulators still managed to alter the language by postponing its implementation by 120 days.

SEC. 794. Effective 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, none of the funds made available in this Act may be used to pay the salaries or expenses of personnel to inspect horses under section 3 of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 603) or under the guidelines issued under section 903 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 1901 note; Public Law 104-127).

The committee, without review by the House or the Senate, inserted additional new language that could conceivably allow the slaughterhouses to privately contract for USDA inspectors. Nobody is really sure how this is all going to play out, however some of the "good old boys" definitely made an end run around the will of Congress, in back room shenanigans, out of the public view.

The following excerpts are from Horse slaughter supporters protest late bill change, written by Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press.

WASHINGTON - The House approved a ban on horse slaughter Friday amid protests from two Republican sponsors of the measure, who blasted their colleagues for adding a confusing provision that could undermine the ban.

The new provision could prevent lawmakers from cutting money for horse meat inspections next year, supporters of the ban said. Sweeney also said the added provision could allow horses to be slaughtered along with cattle, goats, sheep and other livestock.

The new provision was vague and its intent never fully explained, lawmakers said.

"We had four different lawyers look at this language, and we've come up with four different answers," Whitfield said. Even Agriculture Department lawyers said the provision was vague, he said.

Sweeney said his "no" vote was a protest against the abuse of the legislative process because the questionable provision was never debated in the open and never got full consensus, unlike the horse slaughter provision.

Walt Smith, an aide to Bonilla, said the provision was added to allow for federal inspection of other meat such as bison, deer and elk. He said he did not know whether the provision would undermine the horse slaughter ban.

(Please read the complete and unedited story.)

And that is how politics currently work in this country.

Part Five will discuss the Ensign - Byrd bill, submitted in response to the Conference Committee travesty.

Continue to Part Five

Return to Introduction and History

Return to Legislative Attempts to Undo the Burns Rider

Return to Senate Anti-Slaughter Activities