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Right Down to the Wire: Beware and Be Warned!

December 15, 2017

Given Congress’ continuing inability to reach agreements on budget and appropriations, the current drama gives me a chance to re-explore two of my favorite themes.

First, there is a well-ordered process by which Congress should be able to resolve spending issues in a timely fashion. In fact, there once was a time when they did. Second, nobody knows how the current impasse will be resolved. As readers have often heard me say: there is no secret plan waiting to be rolled out that will magically complete the appropriations process. The end of next week could well bring an impasse with a possible shutdown and the best scenario might turn out to be a new continuing resolution.

So-called “regular order” has the appropriations process finished in 9 months. A long time ago, this actually happened most years. In such years: appropriations subcommittees usually hold hearings on each of their major agencies in March and April, and mark-up bills in May and June. Bills pass the House and Senate in June, July, and August, are conferenced in September (or sooner) and  enacted into law by October 1. Occasionally, a bill would slip past October 1 in the past — the numbers resolved but held up by disagreement about some policy rider upon which House and Senate cannot agree. Historically, the Ag/FDA bill went through without too much trouble; the Labor-HHS bill was one of the bills more likely to be caught up in a dispute over a policy rider.

For the current impasse, the issues that need resolving are more numerous and complex than in most years. The budget committees need to agree upon spending ceilings for FY 18 (and possibly FY 19). Based on amounts being proposed, this will require an amendment to the spending ceilings in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming agreement on budget and funding levels, the Congress will probably also have to resolve program extensions and funding for the Child Health Insurance Program and other programs whose funding lapsed September 30. There may also be need for a deal on some purely policy issues, although negotiated deals on these items might have spending consequences. This is plenty, but it is not even all the issues … and Congress has to resolve  them before next Friday, December 22, when the current CR expires.

Which brings me around to my other point. There is no secret deal. Right until the end, all outcomes are going to be possible (resolution, further CR, or a shutdown) and can be further complicated by agreements covering only a handful of the 12 appropriations bills or funding defense and non-defense differently.

Stay tuned. It is likely to be a wild week ahead. In case it goes right down to the deadline on Friday night, you may wind up receiving Friday Update on Saturday. You are forewarned.

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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