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Learning From Secretary Hagel’s FY 15 Defense Budget

February 28, 2014

The Budget Control Act (BCA) sets annual spending limits until the early 2020s — both the total amount of monies for discretionary programs and the split between defense and non-defense funding. The most notable feature is that the year-over-year increases are extremely small after FY 14.

When the President’s FY 15 budget request is released on March 4 (overview) and March 11 (detailed), we will know his proposed apportioning of the non-defense spending limit across the hundreds of non-defense agencies. Hopefully, this will include a large increase for FDA.

In contrast, the Department of Defense (DoD) knows how much they will get under the BCA. Thus, on February 24, Secretary Hagel was allowed to unveil the broad outlines of the President’s FY 15 defense budget request. He emphasized how much the request was below DoD’s baseline program levels and the resulting widespread impact on defense readiness. And he pointed to the continuing threat from flat defense budgets past 2020 and the potential for sequestration starting again in FY 16.

We do not have the expertise to evaluate the DoD budget request, particularly whether it would leave our nation with too few troops with not enough resources. For the moment, it is enough to know that some Members of Congress sincerely believe this to be the case and are prepared to fight for more funds for DoD.

Some of those Members of Congress would find extra money for DoD through entitlement cuts, but would not agree to tax changes. Others would find the monies from tax changes, but would not agree to entitlement cuts. If those two camps deadlock, some other Members would be happy to point out that extra monies for defense can be offset by cutting non-defense spending. Indeed, this was the approach embedded in the House budget resolution for FY 14.

From an advocacy perspective, we can certainly learn from the DoD’s early effort to communicate the consequences of an austere budget and the need for additional funding that the President will propose (paid for from new revenue and cuts to mandatory programs). Because Secretary Hagel got out in front of the President’s budget, there is extra time for defense hawks to rally behind additional funding. This was also early notice to Members of Congress that “defense jobs in your district” are at risk.

Until Congress addresses our nation’s structural debt problems — mandatory entitlement spending (health care and social security), revenues, and debt-related interest payments — we all face the same extremely limited spending permitted under the BCA.

As we all know, FDA’s future funding is always dependent on how good a case we can make for the monies needed to fulfill FDA’s mission. In doing so, we also must be cognizant of the overall budgetary trends and understand the arguments and pressures from the largest single component of discretionary spending — national defense.

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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