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Interpreting the Mood of the House on FDA Appropriations

July 10, 2015

The House is on schedule to pass all or almost all appropriations bills by the end of July. In the same timeframe, the Senate has a strong chance of having all appropriations bills marked up and reported from committee. Compared to past years, this is a significant improvement. And yet, there is substantial doubt whether any appropriations bill will become law this year.

Despite all this Congressional effort, there are two primary barriers. The first is that Senate Democrats are trying to force negotiations on overall spending and budget caps. Their maneuvering leaves open the question of whether any appropriations bills can be brought up in the Senate before discussions occur and agreements reached. Resolution is unlikely before September, if at all. The second is that President Obama has threatened to veto any appropriations bill whose aggregate spending level is lower than the President’s request. (I believe this is all of them.)

This situation prompted one Alliance member to ask: What are the chances that we will see appropriations bills enacted this year?

The straightforward answer is that nobody knows. … Whether any appropriations bills will become law depends on political events and political maneuvering that hasn’t occurred yet. A limited FY 16 deal is possible and even a grand multi-year deal involving long-term adjustments to budget caps is not impossible. The price of failure would be a continuing resolution and possibly another government shutdown. Without a budget deal, sequestration of funds (in the form of across-the-board budget cuts) is also a threat.

Without some changes, the macro-budgetary picture is grim and will remain so for many years. For that reason, a budget deal and higher spending ceilings are the best outcome for FDA. This is also why the Alliance has not been critical of the House Ag/FDA appropriations bill, even while we have been clear that we will continue fighting for much more than a $30 million increase. While FDA’s allocation is insufficient, most of the non-FDA programs in the Ag/FDA bill received worse treatment.

While doing what we can (monitor/advocate) for higher budget caps, the Alliance never loses sight that our main mission relates to micro-budgetary factors concerning FDA’s budget authority appropriation. No matter how bad (or good) the larger picture, the amount that FDA receives is directly dependent on Congressional perception of FDA stewardship of funds. Have past increases been well spent? Are additional net funds essential to FDA’s many vital missions? Are there economies that the agency could employ to make dollars stretch further? Is there risk of a shortfall of funds undercutting performance, leading to loss of confidence in the agency and less support for future funds?

Reading the House appropriations committee report, there is an interesting trend that relates to Congressional perception. On the one hand, there seem to be many more directives to the agency than in recent years, which might suggest discontent with the FDA’s direction and actions. On the other hand, there is a lack of any hostile or suspicious tone to the report — the directives are specific and matter-of-fact rather than far-reaching and alarming. While we hope this is the correct interpretation of the House’s mood, we will continue to be sure that both Appropriations committees have the information and insights needed to judge FDA’s budgetary needs fairly.

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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