From Deirdre Walsh
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After a five-week summer recess, one of the House of Representatives' first items of business was a vote on a bill to ban horse slaughtering in the United States.
Members on both sides of the aisle expressed outrage that Congress was spending time on the bill with only 15 legislative days left in the session. The legislation would shut down the three foreign-owned slaughterhouses operating in the United States.
After debating the bill Thursday afternoon, the House passed the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act 263-146 without amendments. The measure now goes to the Senate, which may or may not take up the measure.
At a closed-door meeting of House Republicans earlier in the day, a small group of lawmakers voiced opposition to the bill and the timing of taking it up now.
"People are ticked off about the beat-a-dead-horse bill we're doing today," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, after the meeting.
Flake, who said he grew up with horses, argued more important bills should be addressed, such as immigration, adding that "a lot of people are upset."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, chided Republicans for spending time on the issue, saying, "This week we could be passing legislation to implement the 9/11 commission's recommendations. Instead, we have one bill on the floor about the slaughtering of horses, however important that may be, but certainly time to do more."
A Republican leadership aide defended scheduling the bill for the floor this week. "The two-co-sponsors had secured a promise for a vote," the aide said. "While the opposition was vocal, it was limited to a few members."
At the conference meeting, several Republicans raised concerns about the bill's impact on jobs in the agricultural industries and on private equestrian owners who need a means to dispose of dead horses.
Rep Joe Barton, R-Texas, said on the floor that "for many ordinary Americans who don't have the resources, having a slaughterhouse option is a humane option."
More than 90,000 American horses were slaughtered in the United States last year by three foreign-owned plants, according to a fact sheet distributed by Rep. John Sweeney, R-New York, chief co-sponsor of the bill.
A Sweeney aide noted that the bill is narrowly focused on the slaughter of horses for product that is shipped to Europe and Asia for consumption and that it would not affect other animal industries. The bill has 203 co-sponsors.
Actress Bo Derek, a Republican and animal rights activist, was on Capitol Hill lobbying for the bill Thursday morning. She stood outside the closed-door weekly meeting of House Republicans, buttonholing members as they left to shore up support for the legislation.
Agricultural industries were lobbying against the bill, supporting several amendments designed to weaken it.
Both sides of the aisle complained that Congress has more important issues to tackle than horse slaughtering.
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