Skip to content

Just How Lame Is This Lame Duck Going to Be?

November 9, 2018

Q: If the Ag/FDA bill is ready for final passage, shouldn’t it come up as soon as the Congress returns?
A: Defense, VA, and HHS programs were among those already funded for FY 19. Appropriators — both Republicans and Democrats — would like to finish the spending covered by the remaining seven committee bills (about $300 billion) and have a clean slate for the new Congress to start working on FY 20. However, the White House has no incentive to allow these appropriations bills to move before there is agreement (favorable to the White House position) on homeland security and border funding. It seems unavoidable that this will be played out publicly, in a dramatic fashion, rather than be resolved by behind-the-scenes negotiations and minimal posturing.

Q: If the Congress fails to resolve the border security funding issues and nothing passes, what would happen to FDA’s appropriation?
A: If Congress deadlocks on appropriations, then it is likely that the CR will be extended until January, or more likely, mid-February or later. FDA will continue to be funded under the Continuing Resolution until the new Congress can address spending issues. Under a CR, FDA is largely limited to continuation of activities that were part of the FY 18 FDA budget/workplan. In practice, there is some leeway, but the agency has to be able to justify its spending decisions against the metric that a CR, quite literally, provides for continuation of programs and not more. This is particularly disappointing, given that both the House and Senate bills provided significant levels of new funding for the agency.

Q: Is there a possibility of a government shutdown when the CR expires in December?
A: While commentators disagree about the likelihood of a shutdown, no one is dismissing the possibility. The conventional wisdom is that the party that precipitates a shutdown always comes out looking bad and risks being punished by voters. However, the White House may well view the situation differently: with the next elections almost 2 years away, the electoral consequences may be negligible and the image of a White House tough on border security might even be a big plus in public opinion.

Q: What other factors might affect Congressional action on appropriations?
A: In an earlier Analysis and Commentary, we described how the politics of post-election sessions can be very unpredictable. Inter-party and intra-party divisiveness often overwhelm bipartisan efforts to clean up remaining items, even those that enjoy broad support (e.g., the remaining FY 19 appropriations bills). One of the few constants is that parties that will have less clout in January (House Republicans) will want to pass everything they can now — whether likely to become law or just symbolic. Senate Republicans, while not having the same incentive, will nonetheless welcome House bills passed in lame duck as preferable to what the Democrats will send them in the new Congress.

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

Comments are closed.