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The Fine Art of Non-Pessimism without Optimism

October 2, 2015

Once again — just in the nick of time — Congress has passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 11. Other than everyone went to work yesterday (yeah!), nothing was actually accomplished. Congress kicked the can further down the road so that a December showdown is possible. By the time the CR expires, there will also be a number of federal programs whose authority has expired and need renewal. Soon thereafter, some popular tax provisions (e.g., the R&D tax credit) expire on December 31. Add to the list that the federal debt ceiling will need to be raised in November or December and it all adds up to a potential legislative and political mess.

Here’s the good news: we have been at this spot before. In 2011, the result was the Ryan-Murray budget agreement, which defused a number of potential time bombs. But there is some bad news: we were almost at this same spot in 2012 and 2013 and we had a sequester and then the next year, a shutdown.

It is hard to know whether 2015 is more like 2011 or 2012/2013. The uncertainty is magnified because a new Speaker and House leadership team will be starting November 1. Whether they are compromise-oriented or hard-line, they will be trying to lead a badly divided Republican caucus in the House.

Where does all this leave FDA? The House and Senate both proposed small increases for the agency for FY 16 and several Congressional leaders have acknowledged (publicly and privately) that more funding is needed. On that basis, FDA is likely to be helped more — and hurt less — than other agencies. In relative terms, this is a good place to be. If some additional funds become available because of a budget deal, then it is possible FDA could receive some part of it, especially to meet FSMA requirements.

In absolute terms, FDA’s situation is less appealing. Under the CR, FDA can only spend at the rate it spent in FY 2015. Other federal agencies may be (reluctantly) agreeable with no new funds because their mission and workload haven’t increased much. Not so FDA, whose mission is probably growing 6 to 10% per year. Even the Administration asked for a 6% increase in budget authority funding for FDA in FY 2016.

I have no reason to be optimistic for FDA. Betting on Congress to suddenly become functional is generally a losing proposition.

Yet, I am not pessimistic. I believe that a budget deal is a serious possibility and that FDA has the case to snag some share of it.

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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