Tuesday’s racing media was replete with praise for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s announcement that he had reached a breakthrough in advancing federal legislation to enact major reforms in horse racing. What is notably absent from the coverage, however, are the details that distinguish the McConnell proposal from the Horseracing Integrity Act that has been in both houses of Congress all year.
The Horseracing Integrity Act in its various incarnations has been in the House of Representatives for the last three sessions of Congress. The primary sponsors are Republican Andy Barr representing Lexington and Democrat Paul Tonko representing Saratoga Springs. They have attracted numerous co-sponsors in the House. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, and Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, filed the current version of the House bill in the Senate this year.
The Barr-Tonko bill would authorize the United States Anti-Doping Agency, a private entity, to oversee a uniform system of medication rules and penalties for violations that would apply to the entire country. USADA is the agency that has cleaned up track and field, as well as cycling, and was instrumental in identifying Lance Armstrong as a world-class cheat and liar.
Because McConnell did not actually file a bill, we are left with media coverage as to what they think will be in the bill. Nothing I read, however, has indicated any significant differences between a McConnell bill and the Barr-Tonko version, other than a possible three-year delay in totally eliminating all race-day medications.
While that should be enough to give pause to the enthusiastic supporters of something that does not exist, there are other factors that may warrant a tempering of expectations.
The first is that McConnell has not exactly built a reputation as a person who keeps his word. For example, while he promised additional legislation to protect middle-income and low-wage workers from the consequences of the pandemic, he sent the Senate off on their usual summer vacation – or as he called it in his press release, a “state-work-period.”
He also described this as a bipartisan effort. But Paul Tonko, a long-time advocate, and a Democrat, was not at the press conference while his co-sponsor sat on the stage. McConnell said he would work with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat motivated by last year’s fatalities at Santa Anita, but had not secured her endorsement. Given the Kentucky-centric aspect of his announcement, it was as if this was an issue only affecting McConnell’s state.
McConnell also said that the bipartisan support means the legislation could come up for a vote “as early as this year, perhaps after the November elections,” according to Frank Angst’s reporting in BloodHorse.com. Right. I am guessing that McConnell is not aware of legislative rules because even I know that if this doesn’t happen this year the whole process has to begin again after a new Senate and House are sworn in.
So rather than jumping on the effort to cry “Hosanna,” as a wagering person I would only accept odds-on wagers that we will be having this same conversation a year from now.