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“Regular Order Appropriations” Would Be Nice for FY 15

January 24, 2014

Once upon a time, “regular order appropriations” were the norm. No one even thought there was an “irregular” appropriations process, although there was a lot of year to year variation.

In “regular order” years, the budget committees meet in February and March to work out budget resolutions setting out how much Congress can spend in the next fiscal year. By April or May, they were done — some years succeeding, other years failing. Regardless of whether a budget resolution was adopted, by May/June each year the appropriations committees in the House and Senate would allocate amounts to each of the subcommittees (so-called 302 (b) allocations).

Appropriations subcommittees usually started with hearings in April or May and most were ready for mark-up once they received their allocations. For those appropriations bills not embroiled in controversy or intractable differences — in most years between 5 and 10 bills — there was likely to be House and Senate passage of bills, followed by a conference committee to iron out the differences. For the unfinished bills — in most years between 2 and 7 bills — there was a continuing resolution by October 1 to continue their funding through the new fiscal year.

For the last few years, the appropriations process has not followed the regular order. Disagreements about total funding levels have crippled the process and final bills — when any were adopted — were driven by leadership and not the appropriations committees.

The promise of this year is that the regular order will be restored — especially at the beginning of the process. Thanks to the agreement reached this past December, the total spending level for FY 15 has already been set and agreed upon by leadership and the budget and appropriations committees. Appropriators will know how much they have to spend and are eager to show that they can make the regular order system work despite the many disagreements over budget and governmental priorities.

Despite the promise, there is always a possibility that the process breaks down, and rather than 12 independent appropriations bill being passed we may see the grouping of bills together in several “minibuses” or even one large “omnibus.” Roll Call has published an article that provides a number of possible scenarios for appropriations in an election year.

Next week, we will continue a discussion of why something close to the regular order provides special opportunities for Alliance advocacy. To suffice for this week, we will mention the most important: regular order appropriations is a deliberative process that allows the subcommittees to spend time considering the best allocation of funds to meet national priorities, such as FDA.

Note: This week’s analysis and commentary was written by Steven Grossman, the deputy executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

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