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And Now Much Depends on Election Day Outcomes

October 14, 2016

No one knows what will happen in the Lame Duck session. Some of the uncertainty relates to the election. Congressional priorities will be very different depending on who wins the Presidential race and who will control the Senate in 2017.

Beyond that is the inherent uncertainty that has come to dominate government spending fights. As someone noted recently: CRs are the new normal. They reflect an inability of Members of Congress to reach agreement on total spending and on agency allotments.

Not surprisingly then, the default scenario is that Congress cannot reach agreement on appropriations bills during the Lame Duck. This would then require a CR going through February or March.

Before Congress has to decide on a CR extension, the appropriations committees will look to see whether any of the 11 remaining appropriations bills can be conferenced and sent to the President. (Military Construction/VA passed as part of the CR.) If any appropriations bills can be passed before December 9, they will replace the CR for the agencies covered by the bill. One possibility is to pull all the appropriations bills into one piece of legislation (an omnibus) or to put several appropriations bills together but not all of them (a so-called minibus). Congressional leadership has mentioned a series of minibuses as one approach they will be considering.

A half-year CR (or longer) is always a bad thing for FDA because it makes planning difficult, hiring with BA monies risky, and generally slows new non-emergency initiatives. It is also possible that the across-the-board cuts could be extended or enlarged in a new CR. Uncertainty is not good for federal agencies, just as it isn’t for corporations.

As to FDA’s fate under an omnibus or a minibus, it is less clear. If Congress bases FDA funding on the House and Senate Ag/FDA appropriations bills, then the agency should receive $35 to $40 million, about a 1.5 percent increase. More could be given to the agency in a final deal, but less is also possible. In this type of House-Senate negotiation there is a possibility that the final number might not fall between the House and Senate numbers. For example, prior to sequestration, FDA was given additional new monies, having the effect of diminishing the impact of sequestration.

So, no predictions from here. We will have to wait for the election and subsequent Congressional negotiations to determine FDA’s FY 17 appropriations level.

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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