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Advocacy at a Glance

April 24, 2020

Top-Line: There is no new information about the appropriations schedule for Congress. The House will require a rules change for appropriators to work remotely. The death of former FDA Commissioner Donald Kennedy is noted. More on FDA’s extraordinary efforts to address food safety and supply issues. Eventually, Congress will need to address FY 21 funding and this week’s Analysis and Commentary looks at the possibilities.

Appropriations Committees Still Have No Schedule; House Rules Do Not Permit Remote Mark-ups. Last week’s headline, “Appropriations — In Person, Virtual or Impossible?” is still apt. We may have some clarification when the House returns (soon) and when the Senate returns on May 4. At the moment, Members do not seem eager to spend time in Washington and there are no procedures for voting or working remotely. Until that’s resolved, the work being done by appropriations committee staff will continue, but no bills will be moving forward without a sufficient number of Members of Congress in DC (which seems unlikely in the short-term).

This week did provide clarification on a key point — it will take a rules change in the House for committee and subcommittee hearings and mark-ups to be conducted remotely. Further, that issue is unlikely to be resolved until the House agrees on a plan for voting on the floor without a quorum present. A proposal to allow proxy voting was withdrawn and negotiations are ongoing. We believe that the issue of committees and subcommittees doing business remotely will be resolved once the floor voting issue is resolved. If changes are made, it would be most likely to authorize committee work to be carried out remotely for a limited period of time during a national emergency.

Former FDA Commissioner and Alliance Board Member Donald Kennedy Died This Week. Dr. Kennedy was 88 and his death was attributed to COVID-19. He was FDA Commissioner from 1977 to 1979 and subsequently became the President of Stanford University. Throughout his career, he was a strong advocate for the FDA. In keeping with that, he supported the formation of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA and was one of the founding board members. He was a very special person, as anyone who knew him would attest. The Alliance extends its condolences to his family. The New York Times obituary is here.

FDA Is Hard At Work to Assure Both Safety and Availability of the Food Supply. The medical product side of FDA has been getting most of the national attention, but there is a lot going on with FDA’s food programs. The food supply is geared to accommodate people eating at home and away from home, in roughly equal shares. Now, food that would have gone to restaurants is shifting to retail grocery sales. Food labeling and many other issues need to be addressed to accommodate this transformation in the food supply chain.

There are several ways to learn more about the agency’s food safety and supply activity relating to the pandemic. The Alliance’s virtual meeting with Dr. Caitlin Boon, FDA Associate Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, on April 15 is described here. A Q&A with Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, is here and addresses his New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative. Finally. Susan Mayne, Director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Nutrition, provides a number of details about FDA actions related to the food supply here.

Budget Caps and Possible Exemptions: A Review of the FY 21 Funding Cycle Issues. The Congressional agenda could be summarized as: fight the pandemic and restore the economy. There is no bandwidth left for anything else. Yet, by October 1, Congress will have to address how government operations will be funded in FY 21. This week’s Analysis and Commentary looks at Congress’ options and the issues that will need to be resolved. We know this seems small in the face of the pandemic, but over the next 5 months Congress will have to look at the funding situation and make decisions.

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