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A Budget Deal Seems to Be in Place … But There Are More Questions

July 26, 2019

Q: Does the budget deal transition Congress from macro budgetary issues to micro budgetary issues?

A: Yes. Once the Senate appropriations subcommittees have their 302(b) spending allocations, then the macro budgetary issues (involving the broad sweep of government spending) have been resolved for FY 20.  The budget deal clears the way for Congress to deal with micro budgetary issues (involving the funding of specific departments and agencies). With regard to our interests, Congress is finally at the point where it decides the level of funding FDA needs to carry out its mission.

Q: Now that we have a budget deal, what’s next for FDA?

A: FDA is off to a good start, with the House including a $185 million increase (about 6%) for FY 20. The Senate numbers for FDA are unknown until they take up Ag/FDA appropriations in September. As stakeholders, we need to be constantly reinforcing the importance of the agency’s mission. In particular, how Congress perceives FDA, its mission, and its funding needs is not based on a single document (the President’s budget request, the Alliance “ask”) or a single day (the Commissioner’s appropriations testimony; the Alliance’s big Hill Lobby Day). Rather, the agency’s fate — reflecting its successes and needs — is being evaluated and calculated by Congress every day.

Q: Why do there seem to be so many unknowns if the legislation has already passed the House?

A: The budget deal — increasing the spending cap, deferring enforcement of the debt ceiling — involved more elements than what is in the legislation. For example, to get the deal done, the House had to agree not to load up appropriations with poison pill amendments that the Senate and the White House couldn’t agree to. Another example was Speaker Pelosi’s appeal for more funds for veteran’s programs, for which we have not yet seen specifics on what was agreed to.

Q: Does the budget deal assure that there will be no shutdowns and no reliance on long-term CRs?

A: No. Shut-downs and long-term CRs can still occur if the House and Senate fail to agree upon funding priorities within the new spending ceilings. If the President doesn’t receive funding bills that he can sign, then it will be imperative that CRs are adopted to prevent lapses in government activities.

Q:How did Congress make September’s debt ceiling crisis go away?

A: It has been reported in various ways because there is a budget gimmick involved. The debt ceiling is not increased under the budget deal. Rather, Congress has suspended enforcement of the debt limit until July 31, 2021.

Q: Is the Budget Control Act of 2011 (with its spending caps) dead?

A: The answer is not yet clear. Speaker Pelosi has said: “We are permanently ending the threat of sequestration.” That takes away the enforcement mechanism for the Budget Control Act of 2011 spending caps, but does not necessarily mean the caps themselves are gone after FY 21. We await clarification on this point since news accounts and analysis have said different things. What can’t change is the underlying Budget Act structure by which the House and Senate Budget Committees are responsible for proposing spending ceilings for the next fiscal year. While that process has not worked very well, the bottom line is that appropriators can’t finish their work without a cap number. If BCA 2011 is gone, the only difference is that there would be no pretense that the cap number has been set years in advance versus each Spring.

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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