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Re-thinking the House Position

July 8, 2011

With the House having finished agriculture/FDA appropriations and the Senate unlikely to begin until there is a deal on the debt ceiling, there may not be much news on FDA funding for the next few weeks. The Alliance is using this as an opportunity to visit more Congressional offices, especially on the Senate side, as well as plan for grassroots and advertising campaigns. It is also giving us a chance to widely circulate the FDA’s June 2011 white paper on the challenge of overseeing imports.

The Senate is our only hope to produce better FY 12 numbers for FDA. However, this does not mean we are only focused on the Senate. Assuming success in the Senate, we will still need the House to agree to the higher Senate numbers. That is not a given.

As recently as April, when FY 11 appropriations were decided, House and Senate appropriators gave FDA an increase. The agency was the only major program account in the agriculture/FDA appropriations bill that was not cut. We can’t know for sure who advocated for the higher FDA funding, but we can be sure that — at a minimum — the House acquiesced and was supportive. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have happened.

How did we fall so far when the House considered FY 12 — allotting the agency a cut larger than the one in FY11’s HR 1? In addition, the House Republican (majority) membership did not seem to be very supportive of the agency during mark-ups — with, among other things, talk of the agency being out of control and having strayed from its commitment to science-based decision making.

The House’s large FY 12 cut, along with negative commentary, is not necessarily a proxy for the level of support for FDA in the House. The actual House position may still be closer to its April position (agreeing to an FDA increase).

One reason for the proposed House cut is the extremely low spending allocation given to the House Agriculture/FDA appropriations subcommittee. While we had hoped to do much better than a $285 million cut, we were realistic (among ourselves) that no program would escape large cuts with the subcommittee having so little money to spend.

A second reason is the nature of the concerns expressed during the House mark-ups. House members were unhappy (even perhaps angry) with FDA about certain ongoing and proposed agency actions. These included: proposed rules for use of antibiotics in food-producing animals; FDA positioning on the use of Avastin in breast-cancer patients; the agency’s role in controlling abuse of prescription pain killers; and (added on the House floor), FDA’s long-pending decision about whether to allow genetically-modified (GMO) salmon.

At full-committee mark-up these concerns were mentioned during the discussion of an amendment that would have directed FDA to only make decisions based on “hard science.” The discussion seemed like an indictment of the agency, but I think it was really just magnifying the individual issues that were concerning the House members.

There is a huge difference between being “unhappy with FDA because of its position on a specific issue” and “not supporting FDA’s need for resources to do its job.” If you think about it, most Alliance members are exactly where I think the House is: concerned/unhappy/angry with FDA about some specific issues/proposals/decisions … but still very supportive of funding the agency because its work is essential to the American people.

This is why I am optimistic: if the Senate can deliver more money for FDA, then I believe the House can be persuaded to concur.

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

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