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Staring at Tea-leaves Makes One Cross-Eyed

March 24, 2011

ADVOCACY

  • Continuing Resolution. All eyes are now on April 8th deadline of the current short term FY 11 continuing resolution.
  • Debt ceiling watch.  It seemed like it was so far away, but the late Spring/early Summer probability of the government reaching its debt ceiling continues to get closer.
  • FY12 process.  With FY 12 Agriculture and FDA hearings completed in the House and Senate, we are hearing unofficial speculation that the subcommittee  appropriations mark-ups for FY12 may occur as early as mid-May.
  • Congress comes back next week.  They stay in session until the next recess, which is from April 18 to May 1.
  • Congressional meetings. The Alliance and its members were able to meet with some Congressional staff this week, and we have more meetings planned for next week.
  • April fly-ins.  If your group has a fly-in planned for April, please make FDA funding part of your messaging.  Contact us for any material you might need.

ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY

Congress is away this week, leaving Washington to ponder how the FY 11 budget situation will be resolved before the next deadline of April 8 (or the fallback of April 15). Once Congress returns, they will have two weeks. Nearly everyone on the Hill wants the next Continuing Resolution to be the last for FY 11. How to get there is a puzzle. There is no evidence that House Speaker John Boehner or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — keys to any deal — Have yet figured out how to pull a package together that would pass both the Senate and the House.

When Congress reaches an impasse like this, there are always lots of pundits predicting what Congress will do … or telling Congressional leaders and the President what they should do. There has been remarkably little of such commentary over the last week or so. When these type of commentators are quiet, you know that the trouble is deep and the path forward is inscrutable. I have some personal experience of being caught in the middle of a Congressional logjam and have watched many more, but still have no idea how to structure a compromise FY 11 CR. Apparently, no one else has a clue, either.

Under such circumstances, it is hard to provide a useful statement of where FDA stands. The House has passed HR 1, which nets about $60 billion in FY 11 program cuts below FY 10 funding levels. The Senate position is constantly shifting, but Senate Democrats might be able to live with total FY 11 spending at the FY 10 levels. This also appears to be the President’s negotiating position. Both would prioritize so that some programs would receive less than FY 10 and some (hopefully FDA) would receive increases.

Under HR 1, FDA’s appropriation in FY 11 would be $241 million less than the FY 10 appropriation. Under any scenario, this would be a disaster for FDA. However — as the fiscal year continues — the pain of such a cut gets worse by the week. Full-year savings would have to be found in less than 6 months of spending. Rather than the 10% cut under the House proposal, the actual impact would be elimination of about 20% of agency spending for the remainder of the year. In contrast, the President had proposed that FDA receive approximately $150 million more in this fiscal year.

FDA’s situation is fluid in so many other ways that are hard to account for. We believe that our own advocacy efforts have substantially raised Hill awareness of how much FDA does and why increases are needed, not cutbacks. Earlier this week,  64 Senators wrote the President urging his support for a comprehensive deficit reduction package for FY 12. To the extent that this reduces pressure on domestic discretionary spending next year, it would be good for FDA. It would be even better if the Senate’s commitment eases pressure on dramatic cuts proposed for FY 11.

Yesterday, the blog, Eye on FDA, asked the interesting question: “Does Japan tragedy cause re-think on FDA funding?”  In an article in Friday’s edition of FDA Week, it is reported that Chairman Kingston might be open to more funding for FDA if it came from user fees. Compared to the current budget-cutting proposed for FDA, I believe that advocates would prefer to be “faced with a situation where everybody agrees that the agency needs more money, and the disagreement is over how to provide that money in an appropriate manner.” Of course, we cannot be certain that Mr. Kingston is thinking this way.

In our eyes, every day brings fresh reasons why cutting FDA is a bad idea. Keep passing the word.

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

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