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FDA’s Appropriation for FY 19: Upsides and Downsides

July 27, 2018

In several recent columns, here, here, and here, I have explored the interplay between “Things are looking good for FDA in FY 19” and “Happy endings are not guaranteed.”

On the one hand:  the House is supporting a $308 million increase for FY 19, while the Senate has proposed $159 million. The Alliance is working for FDA to receive the highest funding levels from both bills. Whether that can be achieved or not, it would seem like FDA can’t lose — it’s a matter of a good win for the agency versus a big win … with somewhere in between the most likely outcome.

On the other hand: if Ag/FDA appropriations are not signed into law by October 1, then the FDA will be funded through a continuing resolution (CR). That makes long-term planning, hiring, and program implementation more difficult and precludes most new initiatives. For an agency, such as FDA, that may receive substantial increases in FY 19, a CR means an unknown period (sometimes an entire year) without the planned boost that Congress intended.

I remain optimistic that Ag/FDA funding becomes law before October 1. Both House and Senate committees have adopted all 12 appropriations bills. So far, six of those have passed the House (in two mini-buses plus Defense). By next week, the Senate should have passed seven of them (in two mini-buses) and may be able to finish in August. (CRS appropriations tracking chart here.)

Yet, a colleague keeps reminding me that early progress on appropriations bills — even coupled with leadership support — provides no guarantee of timely final action.  I still disagree with him, but less vehemently than a few weeks ago. Here are some reasons:

  • Only one conference committee has been created so far (for the mini-bus containing Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction/VA).
  • The House has just 11 legislative days in September to pass the remaining appropriations bills and clear conference reports.
  • The Senate has more time, but also a crowded agenda of non-appropriations items and less ability than the House to control the number of amendments and the length of debate.
  • There is no guarantee that the President will be willing to sign any of the appropriations bills, especially if he insists Congress first fund one of his initiatives (e.g., border wall).

Also of interest/concern, unless the House and Senate have agreed on identical 302(b) subcommittee allocations (they haven’t this year), the total spending agreed to by the first conference committee affects how much is available for subsequent bills (i.e., going first has advantages). This has mostly been forgotten in recent years because appropriations were concluded with an omnibus bill or some other configuration by which most or all of the dollars were decided upon at the same time (i.e., no one was first).

All of which is to say (as I have before): while prospects have dimmed a little, our work is not done until the FY 19 Ag/FDA appropriations bill is signed into law by the President. 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.

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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