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Time’s-a-Passing: Good, Bad, or Something in the Middle?

July 24, 2015

The October 1 start of the new fiscal year will be here quickly. Even if Republicans and Democrats were agreed on the spending in the 12 appropriations bills (they aren’t), it would still be tight to get all the bills into law this fiscal year.

In addition to the dwindling number of legislative days, the problem is a three-way impasse among regular Republicans, conservative “budget hawk” Republicans, and a largely unified Democratic party in both houses. And no one knows how the deadlock will be broken. I will be suggesting three scenarios, but no one knows what will actually happen.

The first scenario — the optimistic one — would involve the emergence of a bipartisan budget deal, much like the Ryan-Murray agreement of 2011. While there are an infinite number of variations, a deal would need to include increases in the budget ceilings for both defense and non-defense discretionary spending.

This is what Congressional Democrats are insisting upon, as well as the minimum necessary to avoid a veto from President Obama. If it happens this way, both House Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader McConnell will have to work with Democrats and quell a conservative revolt. That won’t be easy for either of them.

The second scenario — the pessimistic one — would involve a continued three-way impasse. Republican leadership would decide not to risk splitting the party and hold firm on current low spending levels. This would buy time, but each expiring short-term CR would renew the dysfunctional political dynamics. Commentators have started mentioning the possibility of a government shutdown, but it is hard to imagine that Boehner and McConnell would embrace this, although it could be thrust upon them.

The most likely result under this second scenario would be a year-long CR at FY 15 spending levels, probably after several short-term CRs have expired. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers has already spoken against a long-term CR, contending it would negate all of the hard work done by his subcommittees.

The third scenario — the middle of the road, “muddle through” one — would involve Congress constructing an omnibus bill, including the text and spending levels of specific appropriations bills that can be agreed upon and a CR for those bills for which there are remaining areas of contention. This has, in effect, happened in several recent years … but pretty much only after other options have failed (i.e., after several short-term CRs have expired).

How does FDA fare under each of these scenarios? The first one is ideal. A budget deal with higher spending caps would create the best opportunity for FDA to gain a bigger increase than the $30 million to $40 million being proposed now in Congress.

The second scenario is the worst for FDA because it would wipe out those proposed increases and force the agency into impossible choices among continuing and new/expanding responsibilities. All could not be funded at a level that would meet the agency’s mission and maximize benefit to the American people.

The third option — so-called “muddle through” — would depend greatly on whether Ag/FDA appropriations would survive, with its increase for FDA. If FDA is put in the flat funding, CR section of an omnibus, it is essentially the same as the second scenario.

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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