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Our Advocacy Remains an Imperative for Strong Funding

July 13, 2018

In recent columns, I have explored the interplay between “things are looking good for FDA in FY 19” and “happy endings are not guaranteed.” One problematic scenario is the possibility of a Continuing Resolution. Not only would this mean that new monies wouldn’t be immediately available to FDA, but it would also limit some of the agency’s ability to start new initiatives, even if fully funded.

A colleague reminded me that early progress on appropriations bills, coupled with leadership statements about finishing the process before October 1, is commonplace and no guarantee of timely action. CRs have become the norm and “regular order appropriations” the exception. New Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby recently observed: “the collapse of regular order has become the new normal, despite our usual resolutions to revive it.”

Why could this year be different — and regular order appropriations prevail? First, the deal earlier this Spring on budget ceilings for FY 18 also incorporated agreements on FY 19 spending levels. An effort in the House to backtrack on the FY 19 levels has not gained any traction. So, the agreed-upon levels look like they will stick. Second, the President has threatened to veto any omnibus appropriations bills that comes his way, forcing Republican leadership to package what is likely to be five or six “mini-bus” bills that each cover two or three of the 12 appropriations committees. Third, many believe that completing appropriations will resonate well for Republicans in the November mid-term elections, giving them incentive to find floor time for appropriations bills.

Based on these factors, both the House and Senate have set an aggressive pace and by early July they still have enough time to complete the process. In many recent years, early progress has bogged down before July and we might already have an inkling that a post-election session will be needed to resolve appropriations disagreements.

Despite these advantages, why might CRs still predominate as the new fiscal year looms? First, the House and Senate are wide apart on the substance of their bills. The House has lots of “poison pill” policy riders and most of the House bills were adopted on party line votes. The Senate has taken the opposite approach: relatively clean bills, resulting in support on both sides of the aisle. The Senate is likely to wait for bills to arrive from the House and already has a full agenda from now to Election Day, with emphasis on a full docket of confirmations to consider. It is still too early to know whether appropriations bills can be squeezed onto the Senate calendar. And last, but hardly least important, is that Congress has been at this spot in some prior years — generating a lot of optimism — and then the process has ground to a halt. Early progress does not eliminate the possibility of funding by CRs.

All of which is to say: our work is not over now that the Ag/FDA appropriations bills have passed out of committee with new monies for FDA. We need to be advocates for the highest possible funding levels for FDA, as well as for prompt action by leadership and conferees to move funding bills into law.

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