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All Aboard for the FY 18 Rollercoaster Ride

August 20, 2017

Congress faces several key deadlines in September, yet the Senate has 17 legislative days and the House has only 12 legislative days to work things out.

From the Alliance’s perspective, the most important item is Congressional passage of the FY 18 Ag/FDA appropriations bill before September 30. Our fate is tied to the eight-bill vehicle that, in effect, means all non-defense programs will move forward together or not at all. The good news is that the House is poised to act on it in early September and the Senate could “catch-up” quickly. If this doesn’t occur, FDA will start the fiscal year funded under a continuing resolution.

Progress on appropriations is hard to predict because of multiple interlocking issues and the limited number of legislative days. One of those interlocking issues is the debt ceiling.  Depending on Federal cash flow, Congress must raise the debt limit sometime this Fall (approximately October 1). The Republican caucuses in both House and Senate are likely to be split, with many of the “more-conservative” Members planning to vote “no” unless passage is tied to large spending cuts allocated to both entitlement and discretionary programs. On the other hand, Democrats and many of the “more-moderate” Republican Members will want a “clean” debt ceiling bill with no restrictions.

In addition to the debt ceiling, another related issue is the budget resolution.  Neither House nor Senate has yet passed FY 18 budget resolutions. The House budget committee has reported a bill, but the Senate has not even begun. While Congress often does not complete this process, higher defense spending and tax reform are dependent on passage of budget bills that direct some combination of entitlement and non-defense spending cuts. Further, unless the Senate parliamentarian rules otherwise, reconciliation instructions from the FY 18 budget bill (not carryover from the FY 17 budget bill) will be necessary if the Senate is to take up tax reform or re-visit health reform under rules that only require a majority vote.

Consideration of the appropriations bills, the debt ceiling, and/or the budget resolutions are likely to be further entangled by efforts to adjust or repeal the FY 18 defense and non-defense spending caps that are contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). The defense/VA minibus appropriations bill passed by the House before recess contains a cap-busting allotment for DOD. However, the amount by which the House bill exceeds the cap will not be available to spend, but rather it will be rateably reduced until the total is no greater than the cap. To avoid this sequestration, proponents of larger defense spending will need to amend the BCA. They may not have the votes unless they also support an increase in the non-defense cap (theoretically good for FDA).

Given the interlocking high stakes issues that need to be resolved, what will happen in September? There is no obvious answer and no secret plan. House and Senate leadership — who will be responsible for moving these spending and budget items forward — are taking it step-by-step without certainty where they will wind up.  Sometimes when there are so many big issues, the easiest thing to do is kick the can down the road.  It will be a rollercoaster ride this September as Congress works through these interlocking issues.

Editorial note: The Analysis and Commentary section is written by Steven Grossman, Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA

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