Skip to content

Another Perspective on the FY 20 Tea Leaves

November 1, 2019

Last week’s Analysis and Commentary explored why the 302(b) subcommittee allocations are the key to moving FY 20 appropriations bills forward. The analysis showed how the various appropriations bills are interlocked politically and, to a degree, substantively. Primarily, the President’s request for border wall funding is directly impacting funding for DoD, Military Construction/VA, and Homeland Security, and indirectly impacting L-HHS.

Despite the pressure on the Appropriations committees to find a compromise, the whole thing is a mess and no one has yet suggested a viable way to find common ground. At some point, perhaps soon, it will become clear that the 302(b) impasse is intractable and Congress will decide to adopt a full-year Continuing Resolution to keep government open. At that point, all the bickering will stop, so it would seem that a full-year CR is an attractive option. In fact, it’s not!

Rather, the House and Senate have little choice but to keep negotiating. The crux is that this summer’s budget deal allows FY 20 spending to rise $45+ billion above the FY 19 spending levels (about a 4% increase). That is to say, a full-year FY 20 Continuing Resolution would represent a $22 billion loss for defense programs and a $24.6 billion loss for non-defense programs (I have seen various numbers, the magnitude of the loss is accurate).

The non-defense programs represent several thousand constituencies (almost certainly more). It is hard for them to speak with a collective voice and, accordingly, they have limited clout in Congress on big-picture budgeting. So, maybe Congress could pass a full-year CR if it was only going to affect non-defense programs.

The defense pot of money is another story. A limited number of constituencies are involved. They speak with close to one voice and they have lots of clout. Congress doesn’t want to face the generals or the public and say: this year we are not going to invest in strengthening our national defense, despite having voted earlier for such an increase. We don’t have a full-year CR now (and probably won’t later), because no one (R or D) is prepared to tell the Pentagon that the $22 billion doesn’t matter or represents their contribution to budgetary belt-tightening.

There are no guarantees, but it seems likely that Congress will keep negotiating on 302(b) allocations, no matter how long it takes to get a deal. If so, we will eventually see an Ag/FDA spending bill become law and FDA will get a funding increase in FY 20.

Interestingly, it is the same dynamics that make a shut-down on November 21 unlikely. Last year’s shutdown was, arguably, only possible because the DOD and Labor-HHS appropriations bills (70% of all federal discretionary spending) had already been passed into law. When FDA was shut-down, HHS was still working, and so was the Pentagon. A shutdown on November 21 this year would be a very different proposition politically. Judging by 2013 news coverage, DOD might have to furlough half of its 800,000 civilian employees and those who are working (including active members of the military) would not be paid until the shutdown ended.

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.