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Gearing Up for a Full-Court Press

March 16, 2012

This column often talks about the difference between micro- and macro-budgetary politics as they affect FDA. It is timely to do so again.

The micro-budgetary politics of the FDA are never simple, but they are tangible and can be addressed through advocacy. FDA is part of DHHS, which primarily relates to the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee, but is part of an appropriations subcommittee that primarily relates to the Department of Agriculture. As a result, FDA has not enjoyed the advocacy benefits that normally result from the alignment of Executive Branch Departments and appropriations subcommittees.

When the Alliance was formed 6 years ago, FDA had been chronically underfunded for about two decades. There are many reasons, but certainly a large part was its lack of advocates inside and outside Congress.

The Alliance has been able to alter the micro-budgetary politics of FDA. The House and Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittees have been willing to listen to FDA’s case for better funding and the agency is viewed much more favorably. We have been particularly blessed with subcommittee Chairs and Ranking Members — House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats — have been willing to champion the cause of providing FDA with needed funding.

Of course, the micro-budgetary politics are not fixed — the Alliance (as well as OMB, HHS and FDA) must still make the case for the funds the agency receives … and justify any requests for increases. This week, the Alliance formalized its request for FY 13, a $150 million increase in appropriated funding for FDA (a 6% increase).  A two-page document describing our request was distributed to Alliance members on Wednesday. The relevant information can also be found on this web site if you click here and here.

We don’t know how this request will fare, but feel confident it will be reviewed and considered carefully by the House and Senate subcommittees. If the only issue were the funds needed to meet FDA’s growing responsibilities (the micro-budgetary politics), then our request might have been for an even higher amount.

That’s where the macro-budgetary politics come into play. Last year’s appropriations process was driven by the pressures to reduce spending, with the House wanting to spend considerably less than the Senate. At the final stages, FDA faced the possibility of a $275 million cut under the House bill or a $50 million increase under the Senate bill. We owe thanks to both the House and the Senate for the increase the agency received. However much the Senate may have insisted on its higher level, the House also had to choose to agree.

Based on last summer’s agreement on overall spending levels (the Budget Control Act of 2011), we have assumed that budgets would be extremely tight for FY 13, but that FDA still had a very good chance to avoid a cut and might even merit an increase. We still believe that’s possible … but the macro-budgetary political situation is about to take a turn for the worse.

As reported yesterday by the political journal CQ: “It’s looking almost certain that House Republicans will restart the spending wars next week by advancing a budget resolution that would hold discretionary programs $19 billion below the grand total they supported when they voted for the debt limit deal last August.” Under that scenario, my guess is that the House agriculture/FDA appropriations committee is likely to have at least $1 billion less to spend. This will, in turn, impact, perhaps severely, the funds that might be available for the FDA under the House bill.

We will see how this plays out … as the Alliance continues to meet with Members of Congress to make the best case for FDA funding. In particular, we need your help to meet with dozens of Hill offices on our annual lobby day, March 28. Information about timing and participation is available in this week’s Advocacy at a Glance.

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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