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Advocacy at a Glance

May 1, 2020

Top-Line: This week we look at House and Senate schedules for returning to DC and starting on the FY 21 appropriations process. This week’s Analysis and Commentary explores the reasons why advances in science and technology foretell that FDA will need significant additional funding in FY 21. This column focuses on vaccine development.

Senate Returns May 4; Appropriations Activities Planned and Rules for Remote Voting Are Prominent. The Senate will return to DC on May 4. At that point, moving FY 21 appropriations bills forward will be a prominent topic. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Shelby would like to see all of the FY 21 funding bills marked up before the July 4 recess. This may only be feasible if hearings and mark-ups can be held virtually. The Senate Rules Committee is working on the ground rules to allow this to happen. Appropriations timelines might also need to be pushed back if Congress becomes enmeshed in the details of any further FY 20 supplemental spending bills.

House Returns May 11; Hoyer Leads Effort to Change House Rules and Permit Remote Voting. House Majority Leader Hoyer has become the driving force in changing House rules to allow for committee mark-ups and floor votes to occur remotely. This is almost certain to be necessary if the FY 21 appropriations process is to move forward. Hoyer must find ways to overcome Speaker Pelosi’s reluctance (to alter tradition or have Democrats do this without Republican support), as well as Minority Leader McCarthy’s concern (that the majority party not gain further control of House processes). The Virtual Congress Task Force, a bipartisan group, met for the second time to discuss alternatives. Nearly 30 Members from both parties participated under Majority Leader Hoyer’s direction.

The House will not be absent entirely next week. The House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee plans to hold a hearing on May 6 to hear from Dr. Fauci about coronavirus activities. The hearing is at 10 a.m. (here). It is also possible some other committees may also meet and Majority Whip Clyburn has said he may convene the new select oversight committee to review federal government spending to stem the pandemic and re-open the economy.

FY 21 Appropriations Process Unlikely to Be Smooth. As Congress nears its return and the possible start of the appropriations process for FY 21, there are a number of difficult decisions that will need to be made about budget caps and available funds. Those were covered in last week’s Analysis and Commentary, available here.

Latest Pandemic Legislation Adds $22 Million for FDA. The most recent FY 20 supplemental bill provided for an additional $25 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. Of this, FDA is specifically allocated $22 million “to support activities associated with diagnostic, serological, antigen, and other tests, and related administrative activities.” That brings total FY 20 supplemental funding for FDA to $163 million.

Coming Renaissance for Vaccines and Other Scientific Areas that Will Challenge FDA Resources. FDA’s budget keeps growing — indeed, needs to keep growing — because science is growing more complex, while also becoming more capable of addressing important public health needs in the United States. This is the topic of this week’s Analysis and Commentary.

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