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Last In, Last Out, Likely Ramifications

June 12, 2015

For at least the last several years, House appropriators — both Democrats and Republicans — have calculated which appropriations bills will be more or less controversial than the others. The appropriations committees have then taken up the 12 appropriations bills with the least controversial ones at the beginning of the process. For example, VA/Military Construction, with its strong bipartisan backing, is almost always one of the first. Labor-HHS, with sharp disagreements about programs, riders, and funding levels, is almost always one of the last. The Senate usually follows the House’s pattern.

In this hierarchy, the Agriculture/FDA appropriations bill has usually been placed somewhere between fourth and seventh. It’s not one of the top three “easy ones,” nor has it been one of the bottom five that are — substantively or politically — more partisan or complicated bills.

It now looks like the status of the Ag/FDA bill has changed, at least for this year. We are hearing that the bill may be among the last ones to be considered by the House and Senate. Speculation centers on  unresolved conflicts from the last Farm Bill, notably a big divide over the funding/program level for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). There has also been speculation that the subcommittee may have been left with relatively less money to spend than other subcommittees — making decisions over priorities even tougher than usual.

Whatever the reason for the delay in considering the Ag/FDA appropriations, we have been assured that FDA is not the cause. However, that does not mean there might not be consequences that affect the agency.

Going last (or nearly last) definitely increases the likelihood that the Ag/FDA programs will be funded by a continuing resolution rather than a fully detailed appropriations bill. This might be true even if the government is ultimately funded under an omnibus bill, since it is not unusual that some CR type funding bills are including in an omnibus along with full bills.

Also, there is the risk that the last appropriations bills may suffer larger cuts to make up for any “overspending” in bills taken up earlier. Theoretically, if every subcommittee stays within its 302(b) allocation, this shouldn’t happen, but it still could.

As referenced in this week’s Advocacy at a Glance, there is talk of a budget deal that will make additional non-defense spending available. It would be to FDA’s advantage if such a deal were to occur. The importance of a budget deal to FDA is even greater if the Ag/FDA appropriations bill is one of the last to be considered. The sooner a deal occurs, the less likely it is that the “last bill out” is penalized.

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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