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Much to Gain from a Smooth Appropriations Process

September 6, 2019

In our last Analysis and Commentary (on August 23), we explored the question, “What could possibly go wrong?” The answer was: a lot. To recap: the House and Senate are misaligned on non-defense spending levels and have different funding priorities within the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) spending ceilings. There are also political disagreements over appropriations riders and a lack of trust among the House, Senate, and White House.

The week we will look instead at: “What needs to go right and how is FDA likely to be affected?”

The first minibus bill on the Senate side will contain FY 20 funding for Defense, L-HHS, Energy and Water, and State-Foreign Operations. This was a winning combination (Defense/L-HHS) a year ago, commanding broad support and signed by the President before the new fiscal year. The main impediment this year will be reconciling House and Senate 302(b) numbers (the amount of total spending available to each subcommittee to spend) for the three non-defense bills in the minibus. The Senate 302(b) numbers will be consistent with the total non-defense spending allowed by BBA; the House 302(b) allocations for non-defense bills are (in the aggregate) about $15 billion above BBA levels.

Since L-HHS is about one-third of non-defense discretionary spending, the House cannot advocate solely for its own funding positions because that would mean the $15 billion reduction from House-passed funding levels would fall heavily and disproportionally on the later non-defense bills. This would be problematic in any case, but especially because the Senate and the White House are going to push for further increases in homeland security, which is certain to be the last (12th) bill through.

Passage of this first minibus into law in September would create momentum to address other spending bills sooner, rather than later. Conversely, it is hard to imagine other spending bills becoming law in September if this first minibus gets bogged down.

If the first minibus becomes law, there might be (barely) enough time for the second minibus (Senate committee mark-up on September 19) to reach House-Senate conference and become law by October 1. At best, this is a long-shot. There will definitely not be enough time for last four bills (full committee mark-up on September 26) and these are certain to be put on CR funding for the first part of the fiscal year. Also, being in the last cluster is likely to be associated with even more delays before final agreements are reached, even if Homeland Security moves forward by itself and not as part of a minibus.

If Ag/FDA funding is in the second minibus and it doesn’t advance quickly or the agency is with the final four bills marked up late in the month, then FDA will be covered by a CR starting October 1 (barring a shutdown, which is a far worse outcome). The consequences of a CR are severe, even though they may be temporary. The agency would need to carry out its programs using the FY 19 (prior year) funding levels, without the increased monies proposed for FY 20 by the House. Further, FDA would be limited in its ability to start new initiatives for as long as it is on CR funding.

Last (but hardly least), CRs create uncertainty, which makes program and personnel planning difficult. The theme for the fall: FDA stakeholders have much to gain from a smooth and timely appropriations process; nothing to gain from controversy, uncertainty, and funding under continuing resolutions.

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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