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19 Days of “Rest”: Then We’ll Need Some Help!

August 21, 2015

We already know the key questions for this September. When Congress returns:

  • Will the House and Senate complete action on appropriations bills?
  • Will there be a budget agreement for higher spending levels?
  • If a Continuing Resolution (CR) is necessary, will the process be smooth or will be there a threat of a government shutdown?

Of course, nobody knows the answers. As a result, it will be a complicated and busy month, with no certainty of how it will end.

To recap the status of appropriations bills: The House has passed six bills and six have been reported from committee. In the Senate, all 12 have been reported from committee, but none are scheduled for floor debate. At proposed aggregate spending levels (consistent with the FY 16 congressional budget resolution), the House and Senate could probably reach agreement on most agency allocations in almost all the bills. In the case of FDA, the difference between the House and Senate versions is barely $10 million. This amount is meaningful to FDA (and to us), but easy to negotiate away in the context of the trillion-dollar discretionary federal budget.

So, why aren’t the House and Senate doing just that — going through their respective bills, negotiating the differences, and moving them forward? First, Senate Democrats favor higher budget ceilings and are unwilling to agree to floor debate on appropriations bills without an agreement for increased spending. Senate procedures would make it difficult for the Republicans to pass the appropriations bills without Democrats.

Second, assuming Senate Republicans could maneuver appropriations bills past Senate Democrats, President Obama says he will veto appropriations bills that don’t have higher spending levels in them. While some Members of Congress are advocating sending him bills and daring him to veto them, consensus (at the moment) is that it would be a waste of time.

The third reason has to do with the relationship between defense discretionary and non-defense discretionary spending. Generally, Democrats want to raise both caps by the same amount. Some Republicans, however, would be willing to raise the budget ceilings, but only to increase defense spending. Thanks to a budget trick (putting extra monies into an off-budget account that is intended for war spending), the defense vs. non-defense issue is dormant. As things heat up, I expect to see it come back and further complicate budget negotiations.

So few days, so much for Congress to resolve! We look forward to seeing you on September 10, the next Alliance lobby day, with a goal of further educating Congress about FDA and improving the chances that increased budget ceiling might produce more dollars for FDA.

For a discussion of the possibility of a shut-down and the possible impact on FDA, see my earlier column here.

For a discussion of Continuing Resolutions and the possible impact on FDA, see last week’s column here.

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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