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Why the Farm Bill May Impact the FDA Budget

June 28, 2013

Last week, I wrote that FDA benefits from being “in an appropriations bill [Ag/FDA] that is considered one of the least controversial.” For example, when Congress finally resolved FY 13 spending in March of this year, the Ag/FDA appropriations bill was one of a handful of full spending bills and not part of the continuing resolution (CR).

As a result, FDA received increases in its base before reductions were taken for the rescission and sequester. By contrast, NIH — which enjoys broad Congressional support but is part of the more controversial Labor-HHS bill — was in the CR portion and it was not possible for the appropriations committee to give it a little extra before cuts were taken.

However, the book on the agriculture/FDA appropriations bill may be in the process of being re-written. With it may go one of the most enduring and unusual legislative partnerships, one commonly attributed to the bipartisan work of former Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole. For much of the last four decades, rural legislators have supported nutrition (feeding) programs such as food stamps and, in exchange, urban legislators have supported agricultural subsidy programs.

This fell apart (or so it seems right now) when the House took up the farm bill on June 20 and the bill was unexpectedly defeated. The trigger was adoption of an amendment that would make changes and force further cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, a.k.a. food stamps). Once that became part of the legislation, Democrats dropped their support for the bill and in the ensuing vote the entire legislation failed 234 to 195. House leadership has taken significant heat from Democrats and conservative Republicans (for different reasons) and must now figure out how to put together legislation that can pass the House.

The same trade-offs — how much for SNAP, how much for agricultural programs — are a central component of any House consideration of the Agriculture/FDA appropriations bill. Two weeks ago, the compromises embedded in the committee-passed Ag/FDA spending bill were presumed to be ones that could survive House floor debate. No one can be sure of that right now and the potential for acrimony and surprises must be considered quite large following the farm bill debate.

In one sense, this has nothing to do with FDA, whose fortunes are not tied to the historical urban/rural partnership. However, the agency’s funding might be affected if the Ag/FDA appropriations bill is no longer considered among the least controversial. Further, it cannot be predicted in advance whether the SNAP/agricultural subsidies debate can occur without reconsideration of all spending commitment made in the Ag/FDA spending bill.

We are concerned by these developments and it is something we will be watching closely over the next month.

Note: This analysis and commentary is written by Steven Grossman, the Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

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