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Quantum Politics and the Rogers-Inouye Certainty Principle

August 26, 2011

Congress is away, but hardly inactive. Members are meeting with constituents back home; staff are preparing for legislative action after Labor Day. We also know that some Members and staff are grabbing much-needed vacation. They know the Fall is going to be tough … and the first 7 months of the year have already been brutal.

For FDA appropriations, it looks like the Senate will act soon, possibly as early as the week of Labor Day. No scheduling has been announced. One of the unknowns is whether the subcommittee will actively mark-up the agriculture/FDA appropriations bill. The alternative, not uncommon over the last few years, is for the subcommittee Members and staff to informally agree on the spending levels in the bill and use a phone poll to move the bill onto the full committee agenda.

If this process is followed, the bill could be through the appropriations committee by September 9 and possibly on the Senate floor the next week. If the subcommittee holds an in-person mark-up, then this schedule is likely to slip by at least a week. Any number of considerations could come into play and might throw off this timing.

The situation in the House is much less clear. The House previously passed the Agriculture/FDA appropriations bill. The aggregate spending in the bill was determined by the House budget resolution and FDA faces a substantial cut under the bill. However, the Budget Control Act supersedes the House resolution and sets higher aggregate spending (albeit below the FY 11 levels). Some of that money should be added to the Ag/FDA subcommittee allocation and certainly will be in the Senate.

However, It seems unlikely that the House will re-do their bill. The assumption has been that the mismatch of spending levels would be reconciled in conference committee later in September. We have heard it said that this would give the House more leverage because they could try to insist on lower spending levels. We have also heard the opposite: that the Senate would have the advantage because they will have already thought through the trade-offs on how to spend the money at the higher level. There has also been talk that the House might consider an omnibus bill containing a number of appropriations bills and adjusted for the higher levels. If so, this would almost certainly include the Ag/FDA bill. It would also create a very different end-game on the Ag/FDA appropriations levels.

In the face of these uncertainties, one thing does seem certain: Chairman Rogers in the House and Chairman Inouye in the Senate want to finish as much of the FY12 appropriations process as possible before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. While other forces may come into play and dictate a different result … if the Chairmen want to move quickly in September, the Agriculture/FDA appropriations bill is likely to be one of the first bills that moves.

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