Skip to content

The Week That “Nothing” Happened

July 15, 2011

Nothing happened this week. And that isn’t good. Debt ceiling negotiations continued, but it is hard to see that they went anywhere. August 2 is bearing down on us with the prospect of the government defaulting on its debt. Nobody seems to be able to find a politically viable solution within the “iron triangle of deficit reduction” — the reality that deficit reduction can only occur by cutting discretionary spending, changing the terms of entitlement programs or raising taxes. There is a further limitation: cutting discretionary spending to zero would not produce enough savings to solve the problem. Entitlement changes or tax increases will have to be part of any final package.

This column is not about my view of that situation or how I would propose to fix it. However, it is about how this larger picture affects the FDA. Put simply, the longer it takes for Congress to accept that either entitlement changes or tax increases (or both) will be needed, the heavier the cutbacks that will fall on discretionary spending, such as the FDA. Delay is not only the enemy of the FDA, but also NIH, CDC, the US Park Service, educational programs, etc. Further deep cuts are coming to discretionary programs, regardless. Our only hope is that the inclusion of entitlement changes and/or tax increases in a larger deficit package will lessen the magnitude of the cuts that discretionary programs will have to bear. And, as noted, discretionary programs can’t solve the problem by themselves, so eventually entitlements and taxes will have to be on the table and put into a package that can be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President.

Within all this, the FDA’s situation is dire. The House has proposed FY 12 appropriations for FDA that represent an 11.5% decrease from the FY 11 actual appropriations. The House number is also about 21% below the President’s FY 12 request for FDA, which the Alliance supports. It seems clear that the Senate won’t act — probably can’t act — until the debt limit/deficit reduction negotiations are concluded. Our hope (and what the Alliance is working toward) is that the Senate will then allot more monies to FDA than the House did … and that the House will accept the higher number.

However, this assumes a lot. The House’s very low level for FDA funding (a $285 million cut) was driven, in part, by the very small allocation that the Agriculture/FDA subcommittee was given to spend on the programs within its jurisdiction. Depending on the final debt limit/deficit reduction package, we cannot be certain that the Senate Agriculture/FDA subcommittee will have a larger total to work with. If not, we will work for FDA to receive a larger slice of this small pot, but it is understandable that FDA is not the subcommittee’s only priority.

The Alliance response is multi-fold. We continue to meet with Senate appropriators, leadership and other offices across the Hill. We are planning an advocacy advertisement buy for sometime before the Senate marks up and we are implementing a grassroots program to take the message to the states and districts of key appropriators.

Our messages are designed to illustrate and reinforce that FDA needs special treatment, regardless of the overall level of cuts being made to discretionary spending. To be funded as an exception — essentially outside the deficit reduction paradigm — FDA must be seen in its appropriate light:

  • Americans use FDA-regulated products multiple times each day, assured that the agency is committed to safe foods and safe and effective medical products.
  • These are services that the American people cannot do without. If FDA cannot perform these services, nobody else will.
  • An adequately funded FDA is in everybody’s interests, including consumers, patients and industry. Everybody benefits when the agency has the resources to provide clear, timely, consistent and reliable science-based guidance.

FDA is a part of those government operations that differentiate society from chaos. It is not too strong to say that FDA needs to be sustained with the same priority as national defense and air traffic controllers. Don’t hesitate to say this out loud; it is true.

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

Comments are closed.