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FY 20 Appropriations: How, When, and Why?

November 11, 2019

Q: Historically, appropriations bills have passed Congress based on an informal hierarchy of which bills are harder or easier to advance. Where does Ag/FDA stand in the current cycle for FY 20?

A: For many years, the Agriculture/FDA appropriations bill advanced fourth to sixth of the 12 bills. That is, not among the easiest bills, but generally considered non-controversial. Last year, the pattern was broken by DOD and Labor-HHS going first in a bipartisan swap of interests. Everything else wound up funded by a CR, drawn into the shutdown and finally enacted in a large omnibus bill. This year’s plan to advance DOD and L-HHS first fell apart and Ag/FDA is in the first minibus (of four bills) to pass the Senate.

Q: If the single largest barrier to wrapping up appropriations is border wall funding, why can’t Congress find a “split the difference” type compromise? 

A: That is probably what will happen as the last step before a deal is reached on FY 20 appropriations bills. In the meantime, there are three related issues that make it hard to isolate border wall funding to reach a compromise. First, the Senate bills creates a perception that L-HHS (below average increase) is funding border wall construction at Homeland Security (above average increase).  Second, the President declared a national emergency in order to transfer more than $3 billion in FY 19 from appropriations for military construction to pay for border wall funding that would otherwise come from appropriations for homeland security. This is viewed by many as a violation of the Congress’ constitutional powers to set funding. Third, regardless of the power/constitutional issues, the transfer of funds has created a very large pool of unfunded military construction projects for which the Administration wants additional funding in FY 20.

Q: Why will the House have to reduce its overall FY 20 spending levels and where does that leave FDA?

A: In order to get started on appropriations bills before a budget deal (BBA) was agreed upon, the House “deemed” a top-line spending number and allocated a portion to each subcommittee. As a negotiating tactic, the House numbers were intentionally high. As a result, the final non-defense spending caps in the BBA are about $15 billion below the House levels. The Senate, with the budget deal numbers available to them, was able to craft bills that fit within the BBA. For FDA and most other agencies hoping for a funding bump in FY 20, the implication is that the Senate numbers may be a more realistic prediction of how much funding will be available to spend. We would still hope to get the House increase for FDA (+$ 184 million) because the monies are small enough that funds might be found elsewhere in the Ag/FDA bill. However, FDA’s final numbers might be closer to the Senate’s (+$80 million).

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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