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A Brief CR … and Then … What’s Next?

December 3, 2010


Congress has extended the FY 11 Continuing Resolution (CR) until December 18. The details are the same as the prior CR: the entire federal government is funded at last year’s level. This includes FDA.

While there is no end of speculation, no one really knows what comes next. My own view is that appropriations won’t be settled until Congress deals with taxes and unemployment benefits. Negotiations continue on those issues. We can all hope that a compromise will be reached soon. Only then there will be enough bandwidth for Congress to reach agreement on appropriations funding.

Once Congress is ready, Members of Congress will have three pathways to choose from. The simplest would be to pass yet another short-term CR that would push FY 11 funding decisions into the next Congress. In that case, the CR would probably extend until February 15 or February 28, 2011.

Congress could also pass an omnibus appropriations bill that would extend until next September 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year. Appropriations committee staff have already negotiated such a bill, including several variations based on the total amount available to spend. If this pathway is chosen, the final result will probably be expressed in terms of how much the Congressional agreement is below the President’s request. Technically, the omnibus could also be passed as a year-long continuing resolution.

There is a third possibility that I have not seen discussed.  Since an omnibus appropriations bill has already been drafted and pre-negotiated, Congress could decide to pull out one or two sections of the bill and vote on them as free-standing bills. Funding for Defense and Homeland Security are the most likely to be handled separately. Those departments would then receive full-year funding with the usual amount of direction from Congress, including increases and decreases for specific purposes. The rest of government could then be funded under either a short-term CR or a year-long CR at flat or reduced funding.  There is a chance that the Agriculture/FDA spending bill could be one that would be pulled out for separate treatment rather than continue to be part of the CR.

Regardless of the pathway, the Alliance’s position is unwavering: FDA needs to be an exception to current budget-cutting efforts.

The past few weeks provide considerable evidence of why FDA needs additional resources to carry out its mission. Food safety legislation advanced this week in the Senate and still has a chance for final passage during the post-election session. Implementing the legislation will eventually require at least $500 million (possibly a lot more) in additional funding for FDA (net of any fees that may be collected).  Missing from some of the public debate is that FDA will need substantial additional resources for food safety, regardless of whether there is a new law.

In addition, there has been public attention to improving regulatory science, the medical device approval process, the tide of counterfeit medications, better monitoring of imports, and speeding up the human drug approval process while maintaining safety standards. Better data and tracking systems (information technology) is essential for bettering FDA, yet significantly underfunded.  These items all require resources, both manpower and dollars.

The American people want a food supply that is safe and medical products that are safe and effective. Not all problems can be fixed with money … but very few problems can be solved unless more resources are part of the solution.

PS … FDA is also responsible for pet food and veterinary medicine. All by itself, that adds 70 million pet-owning American households to the list of “who cares about FDA resources.”

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


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