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From Budget Deal to FY 20 Appropriations: Reasons for Optimism?

August 2, 2019

The budget deal was necessary for a successful FY 20 appropriations process, but not sufficient. There are a lot more steps. Many may prove difficult or contentious. If spending bills are to be completed by October 1, then Congress only has about 3 weeks to complete action or will need to start passing continuing resolutions to keep the government open.

Appropriations committees see their job as getting all 12 bills into law before the start of the new fiscal year. Members and staff will work very hard to accomplish that and leadership has the same incentives to complete the appropriations process. So, 12 bills may not be realistic, but 9 to 11 might be, probably in 3 to 5 minibus bills. The Ag/FDA funding bill is likely to be one of those. Funding under continuing resolutions creates inefficiencies, so FDA would be well-served if its monies arrive on time this year.

The short time frame is not the only obstacle to success. The non-defense portion of the Senate bill will need to be billions of dollars below the levels in the House bill. Further, the House and Senate are not likely to be aligned with regard to spending priorities.  That will need to be worked out when House and Senate staff meet together, either as part of a conference committee or through less formal negotiations.

The next step is for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Shelby to take the budget caps and allocate spending to each subcommittee (known as the 302(b) process).  Staff will be “full speed ahead” once they have their allocations. Subcommittee chairs and ranking members are eager to get their bills into the queue for mark-up as soon as possible.  Being ready has two components: the bill must have broad support within the subcommittee and no unresolved controversies that could break into a floor fight. The latter is possible, in many cases only because the budget deal included an agreement to limit partisan riders.

As a general matter, appropriations committee members — Republicans and Democrats — are less ideological and more compromise-minded in their appropriations role than the full House and Senate in which they serve. Further, appropriations committee staff tend to stay a long time. They know each other and how to reach agreements quickly. We know that Senate appropriations committee staff are likely to spend most of August in “bill-drafting” mode, so that the Members can move quickly in September. All of these are reasons for optimism. (For a less optimistic view from Roll Call, see here.)

FDA competes for funds in a non-defense pool of monies that will be increasingly tight. In order to comply with the new BBA caps, the Senate, in the aggregate, will spend less in FY 20 than the current House-passed bills. Beyond that, the FY 21 ceilings are barely more than the cap levels for FY 20.

FDA is off to a good start for FY 20, with the House including a $185 million increase (about 6%) for FY 20. The Senate numbers for FDA won’t be known until they take up Ag/FDA appropriations in September … and we do not know how the reduction in discretionary spending below House bill levels might impact the House FDA increase. The Senate will have its own view of which agencies get increases and by how much.

To best support the agency, the Alliance and all FDA stakeholders need to be constantly reinforcing the importance of the agency’s mission and its funding needs.

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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