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Three Key Questions … and the Answers

December 8, 2019

Q: Historically, appropriations conference committees were able to move fast because the House and Senate would, more or less,“split the difference.” Why is that approach not leading to quick resolution this year?

A: “Splitting the difference” — evenly or tilted one way or the other way — is still operative. It is the essence of compromise. However, there are several hurdles this year. First, because of its negotiating posture prior to the budget deal passing this summer, the sum of all the House-passed funding bills is about $15 billion above the Senate numbers, which are based on the budget deal (explained further here). Any given program line might end up with a House number that is higher than the Senate. However, cumulatively the House cannot get an even split because their position is so much higher than the budget deal allows.

Second, there are issues on which there are fundamental differences between the House and Senate on whether any money should be appropriated. Border wall funding might be resolved ultimately by “split the difference,” but only after addressing fundamental questions from Democrats about any expenditure for this purpose. Third, there are issues that don’t lend themselves to being split, such as policy riders and the proper response to the Administration having moved FY 19 monies ($2.5 billion) without notifying Congress.

Q: While FY 20 funding is being fought in Congress, what is the status o​f FY 21 funding?

A: Within the Executive Branch, there can be three budget processes operating at the same time: current year spending, proposals for next year’s spending, and planning for the year after that. This was FDA’s situation this past summer.

Now that we are into FY 20 spending, FDA is finishing off 6 months’ work on defining and quantifying agency needs that will become part of the President’s FY 21 budget request. At this point, agencies are responding to OMB feedback — rewriting or revising some portions of their request and deciding which one or two rejected (or reduced) proposals are worth appealing. The public portion of the FY 21 process kicks off with the State of the Union, which occurs in mid-to-late January. In early February, OMB releases the full President’s Budget Request and Justification. While the numbers fit on a handful of charts, the narrative portion for FDA usually runs to 300 pages or more.

Q: If FY 20 appropriations negotiations break down irrevocably, how would FDA (and the rest of the government) fare under a full-year Continuing Resolution?

A: We think a full year CR is unlikely (explained here). If there is a full-year FY 20 CR, FDA would be restricted to the level of funding it had in FY 19. That is, it would not receive any of the increased funding envisioned by the House (+$184 million) or the Senate (+$80 million). Further, with some narrow exceptions, FDA will not be able to initiate new programs, only “continue” those it had in place in FY 19.

The actual full-year Continuing Resolution would also look very different from interim CRs that are usually limited to continuing prior year funding. The full-year CR will have to contain provisions for expiring programs and fix other situations where continuing prior year funding would produce an unacceptable outcome. One source this week pointed out that the FY 13 full-year CR was more than 100 pages long and provided for a myriad of anomalies and exceptions.

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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