Skip to content

The House Gets to Work Early

January 7, 2011

LEGISLATIVE DEVELOPMENTS

The House Appropriations Committee has announced its Republican membership. For the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over FDA funding, the members are given below: 

Agriculture Subcommittee

  • Jack Kingston (R-GA), Chairman
  • Tom Latham (R-IA)
  • Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO)
  • Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
  • Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)
  • Alan Nunnelee (R-MS)
  • Tom Graves (R-GA)

It has not yet been announced who the Democratic Members will be.

ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY

In most years, Congress finishes its business (including appropriations) and is gone by mid-December. Serious activity does not begin again until after the President’s State of the Union in late January.  In short, there is usually at least 4 to 6 weeks to clean up your desk, converse with colleagues about legislative plans for the new year, and meet with Hill staff about prospects for your cause. This year: no rest for those with important causes.

Instead, just before Christmas, Congress finally passed food safety reform legislation and decided to defer any decisions about the FY 11 (current year) appropriations for government agencies until March. While the Senate has decided to take the customary break until later in January, the House is already busy. They have begun the process of revising budget and appropriations rules and delineating the “hot button” issues that will harden into House/Senate disagreements.

The new food safety legislation is at risk of becoming one of those “hot buttons.”  During Congressional debate on the bill, there was an intense focus on the authorized levels as if that was certain to be the amount that would be appropriated. Therefore, the bill’s impact on spending and deficit reduction became relevant — discussion that would traditionally be deferred until the appropriations process.

Despite passing the legislation overwhelmingly two weeks ago, Congress appears to be quickly edging into partisan skirmishes over whether the nation’s food safety system needs to be improved and whether it is worth the increased expenditures. The authorized level — $1.4 billion over 5 years — is certainly consequential, but not out-sized for what most stakeholders have thought was needed to strengthen FDA in the food area.

For the Alliance, there is yet another issue at stake. The new bill is not premised on $300 million new dollars each year. Rather, it starts small and ramps up to more than $600 million by the fifth year. This makes sense from a programmatic standpoint, but runs counter to the intended path of deficit reduction. The amount of new money in the later years represents about 75% of what FDA receives now for food safety.

Meantime, the overall FDA budget has also become enmeshed in the larger budget debate about government spending and deficit reduction. The key is whether Congress determines priorities and funds them … or chooses to cut programs equally. The first is what makes policy sense, while the second is easier to accomplish.

Through the series of Continuing Resolutions that extend through March 4, FDA spending cannot exceed the amount the agency spent in FY 10. But this was not a judgment on FDA: virtually the entire government has been similarly constrained.  In contrast, when Congress considered 2010 appropriations bills based on merit, FDA was one of very few agencies that would have received a meaningful increase.

The Alliance stands for the principle that a strong, well-resourced FDA is good for the American people and supported by all FDA stakeholders. Our membership reflects this.

This year, we will have to fight to  separate FDA from the flat-funding approach of the FY 11 CR. We will also need to convince Congress to appropriate more for FY 12, and push the Administration to request more for the FY 13 budget (to be released a year from now).

We need to stay together in this process. Food safety is clearly a growing funding priority, but every part of FDA has an important mission … and none has the necessary monies to fully meet its responsibilities.

For FDA — and every part of FDA — the enemy is an appropriations process that doesn’t fairly consider the merits of the FDA’s case. If Congress listens, we know they will be convinced that a strong, well-resourced FDA is essential, regardless of budget-cutting elsewhere in the federal budget.

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

RELEVANT MEDIA

Comments are closed.