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How Well Is This Year’s Appropriation Process Working?

June 19, 2020

Q: Will the current set of House and Senate mark-ups be completed before August, setting up September enactment of FY 21 funding bills?

A: The probability of further delays in either House or Senate schedules is high. As described in an earlier Analysis and Commentary (here), the appropriations process over the last decade has had a “hurry up, then slow down” pattern. This year, there are a large number of moving parts that makes the schedule particularly uncertain, among them the pandemic, the economy, civil unrest, and political maneuvering ahead of the election.

Q: What is the significance of whether pandemic funding is included in FY 20 Emergency Supplemental Legislation rather than FY 21 appropriations bills?

A: Funds provided in an FY 20 emergency supplemental bill become available immediately upon being signed into law. If funding is part of the FY 21 bills, the monies will not be available until October 1 at the earliest.

However, the differences run deeper. The pandemic monies in the emergency supplemental bills are mostly funds that are “available until expended,” also known as “no-year money.” They must be spent for the stated purpose, but they could be spent now, 6 months from now, or 2 years from now. They don’t count against the FY 20 budget cap or any subsequent year cap. In most instances, emergency supplemental monies do not become part of an agency’s base funding. There are some exceptions, often involving NIH funding.

In the case of FY 20 emergency supplemental monies enacted thus far, FDA has been given an additional $161 million in no-year funding. Because FDA’s responsibilities continue to grow and we envision a significantly larger role for FDA in preparing for future threats, the Alliance has asked appropriators to include the supplemental pandemic monies as part of the agency base for FY 21 funding. We believe this is fully justified, although past precedent does not favor our position.

Q: What is the most likely outcome this year for FY 21 funding?

A: There is substantial, innate pressure to move forward on appropriations. First, appropriators are motivated. No one becomes an appropriator unless they believe that completion of the process each year is important. Second, leadership understands that completed funding bills is widely interpreted as a sign of a productive Congress. The converse is also true: everyone involved in the process looks bad when Congress has to pass one continuing resolution after another. Those two points make us hopeful that at least some FY 21 appropriations bills will become law before October.

All that said, the most probable outcome is still Congressional passage in late September of a Continuing Resolution that extends until after the election or into the new Congress in January. As a general matter, continuing resolutions are particularly bad for agencies, such as FDA, whose missions are growing and therefore need increases in funding.

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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