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Congress Leaves … With No Clear Pathway Ahead

August 2, 2013

Congress leaves today for August recess, returning on September 9. There will be precious few legislative days between their return and the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. With the House and Senate $90 billion apart on total discretionary spending and no appropriations bills yet passed, there is near-total uncertainty about final outcomes for FY 14 appropriations. To add to this, both the House and Senate are in the process of changing the informal protocol under which appropriations bills have been handled.

For at least the last few years, Congress has informally prioritized appropriations bills, starting with the least controversial. So, Defense, Homeland security, and Military construction have always gone near the beginning; Labor-HHS towards the end. Agriculture/FDA has usually been near the top of the middle tier, just behind the ones that are uncontroversial. In general, being toward the top has been helpful to us. One of the potential blows to our cause from the Farm Bill debacle on the House floor in June has been its indirect threat to the Ag/FDA appropriation bill’s status as being among the least controversial.

This “natural order” of starting with the least controversial bills looks like it is coming apart. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has declared (as reported in Roll Call) that the Senate is no longer going to do homeland security and defense appropriations bills first because it leaves less money for critical domestic programs that tend to be in bills we consider at the end. He was supported in this declaration by Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski and Budget Chair Patty Murray.

Meantime, one commentator suggested that this week’s decision to withdraw the transportation/housing and urban development appropriations bill from the House calendar portends changes in the ability of the House to consider any appropriations bills. The premise of this particular commentary is that in order to honor the low spending levels in the House budget resolution, the non-defense spending bills contain cuts that are so drastic that a small but vital segment of House Republicans are unwilling to support them.

I don’t have a crystal ball as to how this plays out in September in either the House or the Senate. But I have good company — I don’t think that House or Senate leadership or the White House have any better idea than I do.

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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