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A Crowded Calendar Through May

January 15, 2011

ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY

The budget and appropriations process this year is front-loaded. Congress will have difficulty getting it all done before the planned Spring Break from April 18-29. And when they return on May 2, they will need to move forward on FY 12 appropriations.

Here are the key dates and possible scenarios:

Currently: The House is in session for the next 2 weeks and then will be in recess the week of January 30. The House has already adopted some new rules for consideration of budget matters. Republicans have made committee and subcommittee appointments. The House Democrats have not finalized and released theirs. On the Senate side, they are in recess until the State of the Union address and will not take the same early February recess that the House is taking.  Formal announcement of committee assignments has not yet occurred.  

January 25, 2011:  The President will deliver the State of the Union (SOTU) to the Congress. He is expected to address deficit reduction and try to build consensus behind whatever plan he offers. The Republican response (immediately following) will reveal the Republican strategy: whether to praise his taking a first step or criticize what he proposes. While the odds of FDA being mentioned by the President are remote, it is not out of the question. If so, it might relate to passage of the food safety legislation and the need for a safer food supply.

Mid-February (possibly February 15), 2011: The President (through OMB) releases his full budget request for FY 2012.  While this will be thousands of pages, the FDA part will be in one place. The Alliance will be able to provide details fairly quickly.

Week of February 20: House and Senate in recess.

March 4, 2011: The current FY 11 Continuing Resolution (CR) expires. Congress will need to decide whether to have another part-year CR or pass one that continues through the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2011. In addition — and central to FDA — will be whether the government continues to be funded at the FY 10 level. The Alliance is advocating for a CR that does not impose uniform flat funding. We are working toward a CR that provides funding increases for FDA because it is a front-line public health agency with a growing mission.

Week of March 20: House and Senate in recess.

Late March, 2011: Somewhere between late March and early May, the federal government will hit the current limitation on US debt. Everyone seems to agree that there are multiple consequences (none good) if Congress does not increase the debt ceiling. There are reports that the House is considering the benefits of a short-term increase versus a debt ceiling that wouldn’t trigger another vote for about a year. Reportedly, House Republicans spent significant time at their retreat this week discussing how to handle the debt ceiling vote. For many new members, this seems a betrayal of their constituency, who elected them to reduce government spending. Leadership is more cautious, remembering that the public usually blames the disruptive party for failure to apply good fiscal management. Either way, there is talk that the debt ceiling vote is the perfect “must-pass” legislation for Republicans to attach a series of spending cutbacks.

Weeks of April 17 and 24: House and Senate in recess.

April-May, 2011: Both Houses of Congress review and approve FY 12 budget resolutions, then try to reconcile the differences. The budget resolution sets out broad funding limitations for different parts of the government (e.g., more money for homeland security, less for agriculture).  For FY 11, neither House nor Senate adopted budget resolutions. In other years, both Houses have passed budget resolutions but not tried to reconcile them (or failed doing so).  Technically, the budget resolutions are supposed to be passed by March 15 and reconciled and completed by April 15.  Congress may move this activity earlier, may do it in the April-May timeframe, or abandon it altogether. However, it does seem more likely that the House will consider and pass a budget resolution.

If this seems a busy calendar, it is. Some of these items may wind up tied together, although it is hard to predict now. For example, it is possible that the FY 11 CR might be extended for a short period of time, rather than until year-end. That might allow the CR to be tied in with the budget cut package. Or conversely, rather than wait for the debt ceiling vote, there may be an attempt to put the budget cut package into the CR.

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

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