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Not the Scenario We Had Hoped For

July 31, 2015

As described in last week’s Analysis and Commentary, “the end of the fiscal year, nobody knows what will happen next” season is upon us. There are barely a dozen legislative days between now and October 1.

We suggested three scenarios. The first one (optimistic) would involve the emergence of a bi-partisan budget deal, much like Ryan-Murray agreement of 2011. The second one (pessimistic) would be triggered if Republican leadership is unable to put together a majority behind a bill that could pass the Senate and be signed by the President. The third scenario (“muddle through”) 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.

Unfortunately, the pessimistic scenario had a banner week, making confrontation and dysfunction more likely. Two events — one general, one specific to Ag/FDA — illustrate the hardening of divisions. While not yet an impasse, regular Republicans, conservative “budget hawk” Republicans, and a largely unified Democratic party in both houses and the White House are having difficulty agreeing on an approach to the 12 federal funding bills.

The general example is the role of funding for Planned Parenthood. An investigative video has galvanized conservative forces. They are now vowing to vote against any bill (including a continuing resolution) that doesn’t contain a ban on any federal funding of Planned Parenthood.  Even if this could pass the House, it would be unlikely to pass in the Senate and would be certain to draw a veto from President Obama if it did.

The specific example is a statement of Administration Policy released this week concerning the House appropriations committee’s mark-up of the Ag/FDA funding bill. As reported by Politico:

The Obama administration issued a stern warning today that it believes Senate appropriators are underfunding the USDA and FDA in a fiscal 2016 spending bill.

It seems clear that OMB would recommend a veto if the bill comes to the President’s desk without changes.

About FDA, the letter states:

The bill cuts funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by $304 million in total resources, or 6 percent, below the President’s Budget. The bill does not include the requested budget authority or new user fees proposed to enhance FDA capacity during a critical implementation period for the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act. The overall reductions would limit FDA’s ability to promote the safety and quality of the Nation’s food and medical products, and would threaten the agency’s ability to keep pace with scientific advancements and help speed the development of promising new therapeutics.

Note the reference to $304 million includes both the President’s proposed BA appropriations increase, but also monies that would be derived from user fees proposed by the Administration that have no chance of being enacted.

Should these disagreements turn into an impasse, then short-term continuing resolutions would be adopted for a little while during negotiations, but probably a full fiscal year CR would not be considered until later. A government shut-down cannot be ruled out if there is opposition to CRs.  As noted last week, the pessimistic scenario for the overall budget process is also the scenario in which FDA is likely to receive the least amount of monies.

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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