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Guarded Optimism — With No Crystal Ball

May 13, 2016

As part of Congress’ determination to complete 12 appropriations bills before October 1, the Ag/FDA appropriations bill has passed full committee in the House. It is unclear when the bill will reach the House floor.

The Senate version should be marked up next week in the Senate subcommittee on Tuesday and the full Committee on Thursday. Senate subcommittee chair, Senator Jerry Moran, has said the funding bill could reach the Senate floor before the end of the month.

This early progress on Ag/FDA appropriations makes it possible it will be one of the first to be completed and sent to the President. In general, this would be good for FDA because it facilitates agency planning and assures that it will not be swept into any late-in-the-year brinkmanship over a continuing resolution.

As to the contents of the House and Senate bills, we are hopeful that the agency may yet receive meaningful funding increases. There are two difficulties. First, the House and Senate Ag/FDA subcommittees have been allotted about 2% less to spend in FY 17 than in FY 16. Therefore, a significant number of Ag/FDA programs will receive the same or less than last year.

Second, the Administration low-balled its request, asking for only a $15 million net increase for FDA in FY 17. The appropriations committees tend to use the Administration request as a baseline, then adjust upward or downward. Ultimately, every dollar of proposed increase above the President’s request means some other program or agency will receive less. The House subcommittee, faced with this situation, found an additional $18 million above the President’s request for FDA or $33 million above FY 16.

So, ahead of the Senate mark-up, we know there are fewer aggregate dollars available to spend and a low baseline from the Administration. Why are we hopeful about better Senate numbers? First, the Senate has traditionally come in higher than the House, sometimes by just a few dollars and sometimes by much more. Second, better funding of food safety has always been a Senate priority, at least since passage of FSMA in 2011. Third, there is a chance that funding of the Senate Innovations legislation (now in late-stage negotiations) might produce some monies for the medical products activities of FDA.

Of course, we have no crystal ball. Optimism about next week’s Senate Ag/FDA appropriations is speculative on our part. Whatever the result, be assured that the Alliance has done all that it can to produce an outcome favorable to FDA.

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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