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Our “Special Opportunity” for FY 15 in 2014

January 31, 2014

Last week’s column described “regular order appropriations” and discussed the Congressional workflow in a normal year when the Budget and Appropriations committees have the opportunity to do their jobs. For the last several years, all of this has been pre-empted by top-line spending fights.

In a “regular order” year, the Budget committees pass resolutions setting top-line spending and enumerating various priorities and spending assumptions. The top-line number is referred to as a 302(a) budget ceiling, taking its name from the section number in statute where this procedure is described. As noted above, the House and Senate budget committees are deciding whether it is worthwhile to put budget resolutions together, given that there is already Congressional agreement that the total discretionary spending in FY 15, the 302(a) number, will be $1.014 trillion.

Appropriators have already started to discuss their own schedule for this year. Normally, hearings would start in March, before the Budget committees act, but mark-ups are typically in June or later, after the Budget committees act. This, of course, assumes that budget resolutions pass both Houses and are reconciled, something that hasn’t happened over the last few years.

If the budget committees pass resolutions, then the appropriations committees divvy up the 302(a) monies, assigning specific amounts to the 12 subcommittees that combine to cover the entire discretionary programs of the federal government. This allocation is referred to as a 302(b) allocation. With the FY 15’s 302(a) number effectively set by the December 2013 budget agreement, appropriators are talking now about negotiating the 302(b) allocations without waiting for the budget committees to act. Doing so early (before June) would provide the appropriations subcommittees with significantly more time to determine funding priorities.

As described here, something close to the regular order  provides special opportunities for Alliance advocacy. Last week, we mentioned the most important reason: regular order appropriations is a deliberative process that allows the subcommittees to spend time considering the best allocation of funds to meet national priorities, such as FDA. If the appropriations committees make 302(b) allocations early, there will be even more chance that careful weighing of government functions and responsibilities will occur.

If House and Senate can mark up some bills by June — which is far more likely this year than it has been in the recent past — then it is possible that several could be ready for Presidential signature before the August break. The agriculture/FDA appropriations could well be one of those. However, there is still a big “if” attached to all of this. The path has been cleared for “regular order appropriations” and smooth forward progress, but many things could yet interfere.

Our special opportunity for this year is based on the Alliance having the time to make our case to appropriators. In turn, they will be listening more carefully, knowing that at least for FY 15, they control their own process without interference from more global budget wrangling.

Note: This week’s analysis and commentary was written by Steven Grossman, the deputy executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

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