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Signs of Acceleration in Appropriations Process

April 24, 2015

The budget/appropriations process has been moving slowly, but is about to accelerate.

Negotiators on the FY 2016 Congressional Budget Resolution are reportedly making progress and may announce a “deal” at any moment. However, a specific proposal has not yet emerged. The issues are many and contentious; our focus is limited to whether non-defense spending will be the same, more, or less than its full cap amount.

The best hope for more non-defense spending is if Congress feels it must raise defense spending. Politically, Congress might then need to raise both the defense and non-defense caps. However, the sense is that the use of off-budget mechanisms (primarily the overseas contingency operations fund) will allow Congress to add enough money to defense without breaching the on-budget defense cap.

The next step is breaking out total budgeted spending (within the caps) by subcommittee jurisdiction, known as the 302(b) allocation. The House Appropriations Committee started the process this week. They allocated $20.65 billion to the Agriculture/FDA subcommittee, a slight decrease from FY 15. However, the subcommittee’s jurisdiction includes enough programs, some with variable funding requirements, that it is impossible to translate this total into prospects for FDA. That will await the subcommittee’s mark-up.

The Senate will probably announce its 302(b) allocations within the next few weeks and they are usually not identical to those used by the House. Differences are not resolved directly, rather discrepancies are reconciled when individual bills are conferenced between the House and Senate.

Once the 302(b) allocations are completed, subcommittee mark-ups follow. The House, in particular, tends to schedule the mark-ups in the order of perceived difficulty, with the easiest first. The first three that will be considered in the House are: Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch. Agriculture/FDA is usually in the next three to four bills that are considered (fourth to seventh in order), which is why we are projecting a subcommittee mark-up in May, possibly early in the month. (By contrast, Labor-HHS appropriations, with lots of funding controversies, is usually among the last to be considered).

While the House has moved forward rapidly on appropriations bills, the Senate is still completing appropriations hearings. This is typical for the Senate to be several weeks behind the House.

One of the Republican themes this year is that Congress will “get things done” now that their party is in charge of both the House and the Senate. Once the House and Senate appropriations process starts to gain momentum, we expect Republican leadership to tout it as part of their leadership initiative. That will probably hasten things further.

All of this suggests there may be a very compressed appropriations schedule. In anticipation, the Alliance has already held more than 150 meetings. We will continue to educate Congress about FDA and press for consideration of additional appropriated resources for the agency.

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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