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After the Pope, the End-Game Approacheth

September 25, 2015

We are entering the “end-game,” the last 5 days before a potential government shutdown on October 1.

The Senate seems to mostly have its act together, with nearly every member acknowledging that a government shut-down is bad government, as well as bad politics. Expect a vote on a clean CR on Monday in the Senate, but it might slip until Tuesday. The major hold-out seems to be Senator Cruz of Texas, who has vowed to invoke every procedural barrier he can to a CR that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. It doesn’t seem like he will have many (or any) backers, but it is still an unknown whether he can delay things in the Senate.

The House is where the hard part of the “end-game” will play out. Speaker Boehner, who has just announced his resignation to be effective at the end of October, has for weeks been caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” On the one hand, he could keep his House Republican Caucus together by refusing any CR that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. This would almost certainly result in a government shut-down that would likely be blamed on his party. On the other hand, he could get a clean CR passed with no restrictions, but it would require Democratic votes to pull this off. Whether Democrats will just go along or exact a price for their support is unknown.

If it feels like we have been at this spot before, we have been. It would be nice if Congress (and the political system) could find a way to avoid future repetitions.

The alternatives are stark. If there is a last-minute deal to keep the government open, then next Thursday will be a yawner. However, we will have to be concerned whether Congress, and a new Speaker, can avoid a repeat confrontation in early December. If there is no deal, then next Thursday we will watch unhappy government workers packing their bags to go home. The needs of the American people will not be served.

What is rarely discussed is the toll taken by this much uncertainty. Legislating gets put aside. Government agencies lose their rhythm.

Similar to other agencies, everyone at FDA is looking at their calendars, thinking about what can be completed by October 1. While many more employees will be working at FDA than most other agencies in a shut-down scenario, everybody must still measure their actions by who won’t be at work in a shut-down to help complete a project.

Next Friday’s column will be reporting on a shutdown or a deal. Whichever it is, the consequences of uncertainty are already being felt.

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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