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What Happens in the Next Few Months?

November 8, 2020

Q: Is FDA funding affected by which party is the majority in the Senate?

A: No. Asked this by media just prior to the election, we responded:

we have no evidence — or reason to believe — that FDA funding levels is a Republican vs. Democratic issue. Our job is to make the case for increased funding. A flip in the Senate majority wouldn’t change that.

To be specific, we would expect Senator Shelby (R) and Senator Leahy (D) to be equally receptive to FDA’s needs, regardless of which is the Chairman and which the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The same is true of the Ag/FDA subcommittee leaders Senator Hoeven (R) and Senator Merkley (D).

Q: In last week’s Analysis and Commentary, you wrote that “Congress often finds that the disagreements that could not be resolved in September are not much easier to resolve in December.” Has the election changed your view?

A: The situation has gotten more interesting, but probably not much easier. Senate Majority Leader McConnell is now saying he wants to move a COVID-19 deal forward and pass an omnibus appropriations bill. Still, there are a nearly-endless number of barriers to reaching a compromise that the House, Senate, and President Trump can agree upon. Vox has a longer explanation of the permutations here.

The potential for House-Senate-White House alignment on an omnibus appropriations bill is a tad more likely with Senator McConnell on board. The key is that a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes and appropriators have a good track record of reaching agreements and moving legislation along quickly. If Vice President Biden is elected President, then Senate Republicans will probably be more eager to move an omnibus funding bill this year.

Q: A STAT article (here) made the provocative assertion that the cause of science and public health received a significant setback in the election. As evidence for that, the article pointed to the breadth of support for candidates who downplayed the risks of COVID-19 and don’t support public health precautions. Is that a correct interpretation of the election?

A: I don’t think so. As the greatest public health threat in a century and with over 230,000 Americans dead, it would have been reasonable for the election to be focused on combating the pandemic. However, it wasn’t. The article itself points to exit polls that showed just 14% of Republican voters said that the coronavirus pandemic was the deciding factor in who they voted for. In other words, the election was not a referendum on science; voters had other things on their minds.

That said, there is reason for FDA stakeholders to be concerned about rising public mistrust of science and public health, even if that was not the primary message of the election. In the last few weeks, in Friday Update, we have covered some of the polls and surveys that document this trend (e.g., Axios survey, nominally about climate change). Given that the FDA’s primary asset is its scientific expertise, devaluation of that expertise is troubling.

As we face that concern in 2021, the Alliance plans to speak more widely and more persuasively about: (1) the FDA’s central role in our society and (2) the need for policymakers and the public to respect and support the agency’s science-based decision-making process.

Editorial Note: The week’s Analysis and Commentary section was written by the Alliance’s Deputy Executive Director, Steven Grossman.

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