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Positive Thoughts on an Imperiled Four-Bill Minibus

September 21, 2018

Both Houses have passed the conference report on a three-bill minibus that now will go to the President for signature or veto. This past week, the Senate approved the conference report on a two-bill minibus that combines funding for DOD and Labor-HHS, as well as a continuing resolution to cover other government spending from October 1 to December 7. The House will take that up early next week and send it on to the President, again for signature or veto. It is unclear how much more Congress will do on funding bills before recess, given that nothing is more urgent to House Members right now then to get home to campaign.

As a result, the four-bill minibus that includes Ag/FDA funding is imperiled. A conference agreement would probably need to be ready for a vote next week if there is any chance of avoiding 9 weeks of funding via a Continuing Resolution that would extend until at least December 7. A CR is undesirable because it would constrain FDA’s ability to start and continue new programs, including those for which money was requested in the President’s FY 19 budget request.

Apart from the obvious time constraints, there is also the difficult process of completing negotiations on the equivalent of four subcommittee appropriations bills, each with its own set of hot button issues. Resolution is also made more difficult because the House posture has been to load up the funding bills with policy riders, while the Senate funding bills were comparatively clean.

Yet, hope is not dead. Staff met this week to keep working on compromises. Further, Senate leaders were definitely positive:

In his floor statement, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby also addressed the last minibus containing the FY 19 Ag, Interior, FS, and THUD appropriations bills:

… we are very close to an agreement on four additional bills — Interior, Financial Services, Transportation, and  Agriculture.  While we still have differences to resolve on each of the bills, none of them are insurmountable, in my judgement.  So we will continue to work diligently, and hopefully return to the floor soon with yet another conference report in hand.

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy was more specific about where the glitches are in the final conference report:

We are still in conference on a four-bill minibus, and we should finish that work and send it to the President’s desk for signature before the start of the new fiscal year so that a CR for those agencies becomes unnecessary.  It can be done. We are very close to an agreement.  Most of the funding issues have been resolved, but we are hung up on controversial poison pill riders. We should not delay this package over unrelated policy matters that have no place on must-pass spending bills.

Hopefully, the Senators are right. If so, the Alliance expects to have good news to report next Friday.

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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