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Can the Alliance Help to End the Shutdown? No and Yes!

January 4, 2019

Q: Is there anything we can do to push the shutdown funding issue to a conclusion and get FDA back to work?
A: In a word, no. We often discuss the key micro budgetary questions: Is FDA doing a good job? Are Congress and the Trump Administration appreciative of that good work? Can the appropriations committees see the value in giving FDA increased funding among competing priorities?  The Alliance exists to educate Members of Congress and the media and to advocate for the funding FDA needs to fulfill its vast responsibilities. We have been successful, although the job is far from done.

In contrast, there are macro budgetary questions, notably whether and how Congress can complete 11 appropriations bills before the October 1 start of a new fiscal year. Often, the Ag/FDA appropriations bill is ready for final passage, only to be delayed by unrelated issues not even contained in the Ag/FDA appropriations bill. Ultimately, these situations are resolved by House and Senate leadership, along with the top people on the Appropriations committee, sitting behind closed doors to hammer out a compromise. The Alliance watches closely — it very much affects the FDA’s resource picture — and we talk publicly about the consequences of the shutdown for FDA. However, we recognize these macro situations, like the current shutdown, are not ones we can influence.

Q: When will the shutdown end?
A: Right now, both sides appear locked into their position on border wall funding. Until that’s resolved, there is little hope that Ag/FDA or any of the other five appropriations bills will be allowed to move forward. We have heard commentators say that it could last a month or longer. Yet others predict that some face-saving compromise will emerge (soon!) where — by crafty use of the dictionary — both sides can claim victory. The reality is that no one knows how it ends — not even the President, the House Speaker or the Senate Majority Leader. There is no secret plan to resolve the dispute. We hope that the shutdown ends soon and FDA can re-open for all of it employees and responsibilities.

As we wait for a resolution, we all need to speak publicly about how a partial shutdown at FDA shortchanges the American people and hurts the hardworking team at FDA who are devoted to the public health and safety of our nation.

Q: When the shutdown ends, does FDA still have concerns about FY 19 funding?
A: Emphatically yes. If “the deal” that ends the shutdown funds FDA on a full-year continuing resolution (CR), then FDA will be kept at the FY 18 spending level and will have limitations on some new initiatives. If “the deal” funds FDA through an appropriations bill, then the agency will probably receive a significant funding increase and have no restrictions on new initiatives. Hundreds of millions of dollars for the agency are at stake with this seemingly simple distinction. Specifically, the FDA was slated for a $159 million increase in the Senate appropriations bill and $307 million in the House bill.  Usually the House-Senate conference produces a number somewhere between the House and Senate. That number is the amount that the FDA gains under an appropriations bill and loses under a full-year CR. (Note: The House bill passed this week uses the Senate-funding levels throughout. We think the House-Senate conference number — which is unknown — is more likely to emerge in “the deal,” but it is too early to make any predictions).

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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