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Turmoil at the Top of the Hill

October 9, 2015

While the two party system in the U.S. tends to force divergent views to co-exist within a party, splinter groups have always been commonplace. If Senator Reid were the majority leader in the Senate today, he would be putting significant energy into making the more liberal Democrats (e.g., Senator Warren) and the more moderate Democrats (e.g., Senator Manchin) work together. Instead, it is Senator McConnell’s problem to deal with the schisms within his own troops in the Senate. That has been relatively easier than the task that Speaker Boehner has faced dealing with about 40 Republican House members who view compromise as a sell-out and themselves as the vanguard of conservative, small government activism.

To look at the situation in parliamentary terms, Speaker Boehner has been running a coalition government in the House with neither faction happy about accommodating the other. Representative McCarthy’s decision not to run for Speaker was an acknowledgement that he would not be able to hold the coalition together either. Today’s clamor for Representative Paul Ryan, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, to be the next Speaker is simply the expression of reality: he is one of the very few House members who is respected by both majority and splinter Republican factions. How this will resolve itself will make for great political theatre, but it is not clear whether it will result in more effective governing in Washington.

If all one cares about is FDA, why does this matter? Looking around, the appropriations committees provide bipartisan support for FDA (albeit with funding increases that are not as large as needed). Further, the authorizing committees are also clearly supportive of FDA on a bipartisan basis (House Cures, Senate Innovations legislation). How does the rancor at the leadership level concern FDA?

First and perhaps foremost, the state of play in the House makes a compromise budget deal harder to envision. Whoever wins the speakership is going to have to commit to listen better (and act more favorably) to the interests of the splinter Republican caucus. There has been talk that the debt ceiling deadline (November 5), along with Speaker Boehner’s tenure through the remainder of October, was going to create sufficient space for a deal. That seems very unlikely in the face of a coalition government that is divided against itself, as it is in the House. For FDA, the prospect of getting more FY 16 funding, particularly for FSMA implementation, is tied to the emergence of a budget deal that frees up some new non-defense discretionary monies.

A second reason why this concerns FDA is the theme the Alliance advances all the time to Congress: whether you believe in the current federal government’s size or want a dramatically smaller one, FDA is a core function of government. Under any and all scenarios, FDA needs to be sustained in order to have safe foods and safe and effective medical products. We have had notable success with this position (note the bipartisan support described above). However, turmoil at the leadership level can obscure consensus items and prevent them from influencing policies.

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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