Skip to content

Full-Year CR: Better Than a Shutdown, But …

October 5, 2019

Prospects for a Full-Year CR. During Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby’s meeting with President Trump and OMB officials, he painted a bleak picture of FY 20 funding if negotiations break down or are blocked by the President. … READ MORE …

Advocacy at a Glance

October 5, 2019

FY 20 Starts Peacefully; No Shutdown, But Restrictions Under a CR. … READ MORE …

“Wouldn’t It Be Wonderful”

September 30, 2019

For many years, appropriators tried to move the least controversial funding bills first. So, Military Construction/VA, Legislative Branch and DOD (before conflicts arose) were usually among the first four or five bills taken up by the appropriations committees. Ag/FDA was usually in the middle of the process. L-HHS was always toward the end, largely because of disagreements about policy riders.

Last year (for FY 19 funding), the thinking changed — DOD and Labor-HHS went first. In part, this was due to the perception that President Trump would veto L-HHS funding, but couldn’t do so politically if DOD was in the same bill. This actually worked nicely within Congress. It forced defense-oriented Members of Congress to vote for the L-HHS bill and supporters of domestic programs to vote for DOD. Not only was Congressional passage and Presidential signature relatively smooth, but it also kept those two bills (about 70% of federal discretionary funding) out of the subsequent fight that led to the government shutdowns in December 2018 and January 2019.

With such success in the last cycle, it made sense that appropriators and leadership wanted to again move the DOD and Labor-HHS funding bills first and together. However, both bills (along with Military Construction/VA and Homeland Security) have become encumbered (directly or indirectly) by conflicts over the funding of the border wall. This might have been difficult regardless, but it has become a raw issue because of the President’s decision to transfer FY 19 monies from defense accounts to funding for the wall.

So, now that that the primary strategy for moving appropriations bills this year has blown up, some commentators have suggested that Congress should pass the remaining, largely unencumbered funding bills first. This would restore some normalcy and security to a host of programs and would clear the decks for Congress to resolve the more difficult fight over border funding. This would be fantastic for FDA — the Ag/FDA bill is relatively unencumbered and FDA seems likely to gain additional funding if its appropriations bill is enacted. Eliminating the threat of a shutdown would also be beneficial for fiscal and program planning and for recruitment/retention of employees.

As noted at the beginning of this analysis, moving unencumbered bills first was actually Congress’ approach for many years. Looking at it that way … might make it easier for appropriators to get the six to eight easier bills out of the way this year. Ag/FDA would definitely benefit from that approach.

I am skeptical (as I suspect most of you are) that such an easy, practical, and historically sound approach will prevail. Over the last couple of years, hostage-taking in appropriations has become more common, more bloody, and more acceptable. It is not right (or at least it shouldn’t be right) that agencies such as FDA (and the Americans they serve) should suffer because of totally unrelated disputes.

This is a good year and a good situation for appropriators and House and Senate leadership (as well as the President) to see the common sense in de-escalating the appropriations wars and fast-tracking the easier bills. FDA would be in a good place if that were to occur.

Editorial note: The Analysis and Commentary section is written by Steven Grossman, Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

Advocacy at a Glance

September 30, 2019

President to Sign CR; Government Will Stay Open to November 21.  By an 81-16 vote, the Senate adopted the House-passed FY 20 Continuing Resolution. The President is expected to sign the CR sometime before the new fiscal year starts on October 1, next Tuesday. The CR expires on Thursday, November 21, the end of the last week before Congress leaves for Thanksgiving recess. As far as we can tell, nobody in Congress is happy with the situation. Nonetheless, everyone seems relieved to start the fiscal year without disruption. Congress will be in recess for the next two weeks, returning on October 15. They will have six work-weeks to finish appropriations. If not, they will have to extend the Continuing Resolution beyond November 21.

FDA Funding Under a CR: Difficult But Far Better Than a Showdown. FDA will begin the fiscal year with funding under a Continuing Resolution. The consequences of a CR are severe, even though they may be temporary. In any case, having recently experienced the impact of a shutdown, a CR is clearly better for the agency than the alternative. The FDA will need to carry out its programs using the FY 19 (prior year) funding levels, without the increased monies proposed for FY 20 by the House and Senate. Further, FDA will be limited in its ability to start new initiatives for as long as it is on CR funding. We have been told there is some leeway if the agency can show that the new initiative is actually an extension of efforts that occurred during FY 19. Last (but hardly least), CRs create uncertainty, which makes program and personnel planning difficult.

Multiple Sticking Points Will Complicate Congressional Negotiations on FY 20 Funding.  When Congress returns in mid-October, it faces a series of interlocking problems that are stalling funding bills and for which there is no obvious resolution. Politically, DOD and L-HHS are best going first.

However, DOD (and Military Construction/VA) is tied up in Democrats’ unwillingness to re-appropriate monies that President Trump transferred to building the border wall. L-HHS (one-third of all non-defense discretionary funding) can’t move until there is an agreement that sets funding at a level that neither enriches nor shortchanges the remaining 10 non-defense funding bills, notably Homeland Security (likely the last bill).

There has been some speculation about whether appropriators might be willing to let the six to eight other, relatively unencumbered bills to move first. This would (presumably) include the Ag/FDA funding bill. This is explored in this week’s Analysis and Commentary.

FDA’s FY 20 Funding: House and Senate Bills Compared. Linked here is a chart comparing FY 19 FDA appropriations with the House-passed FY 20 funding levels and the Senate Committee-passed FY 20 funding levels. The House has claimed that its bill is $184 million more than FY 19 and the Senate has stated its bill is $80 million more than FY 19. Breaking this apart, the House provides $20 million more for food than the Senate, $35 million more for CDER, $10 million more for CBER, $2 million more for CVM, $26 million more for CDRH, $10 million more for Office of the Commissioner, and $3 million more for rent items. The National Center for Toxicological Research is level-funded in both bills.  (Note: Because of rounding in the House- and Senate-claimed amounts and rounding in the attached table, the House is $106 million more than the Senate, rather than the $104 million suggested by top-line numbers.)

More Questions and More Answers … Once Again

September 20, 2019

Q: What does it mean that the House has passed a “clean” Continuing Resolution?

A: A “clean” bill usually means a bill that has been stripped of all controversial or partisan provisions and does not include any new policies that might affect later resolution of issues on which there are disagreements. A “clean” CR has those same characteristics plus representing the minimum provisions necessary for the government to continue operating. This process was particularly difficult this year because a number of programs expire on October 1, 2019 and there were disputes about expenditure of funds appropriated for FY 19.

Q: What is the DOD funding issue that is impeding short-term progress in the Senate on appropriations bills?

A: Republicans want to negate the impact of the President’s decision to transfer some FY 19 DOD funds (that were already allocated to specific projects) to border wall funding. They propose to do this by adding the same amount of money back into the FY 20 DOD bill. Democrats believe that condones what they consider to be an illegal transfer of funds by the President.

Q: What does it mean that the House and Senate 302(b) allocations are misaligned?

A: The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (BBA) resolved disagreements among the House, Senate, and White House with regard to aggregate defense and non-defense discretionary spending for FY 20 (and also FY 21). However, the agreement did not resolve how that money would be allocated among the 12 subcommittees, whose collective jurisdiction encompasses all government spending. Unless there is a prior agreement, the 302(b) allocations to each subcommittee will reflect the different priorities of the House and Senate. For example, if the House wants to spend more money on education, job training, and research, then they will put more monies into the 302(b) allocations for subcommittees that fund those functions. If the Senate wants to provide more monies for border security and law enforcement, they will put more monies into the 302(b) allocations for subcommittees that fund those functions. 

The further difficulty in resolving the mis-alignment is that the House-passed and pending non-defense bills are, in the aggregate, $15 billion above the Senate bills, which are set at the BBA spending ceiling. So, for example, the House allocation for discretionary spending in the Agriculture/FDA bill is $1.2 billion more than the Senate’s allocation. Even if the House and Senate were to agree on priorities, the available allocated monies are also misaligned.

Q: Why are appropriations bills unlikely to move in the Senate until Labor-HHS appropriations are set?

A: The plan has always been to move Defense and Labor/HHS in the first minibus. Those two agencies represent about 70% of aggregate federal discretionary spending. Combining them in one minibus forces proponents of large defense increases to vote for human services programs and advocates for domestic programs to vote for defense spending. However, funding for L-HHS (about one-third of non-defense spending) is unlikely to move until there is an agreement that sets funding at a level that  neither enriches nor shortchanges the remaining 10 non-defense funding bills. Ranking Member Leahy has pointed to an overall 3% increase in non-defense funding under BBA, but only a 1% increase proposed for L-HHS by Republicans. Apropos, Republicans are looking to hold back monies to pay for substantial increases in Homeland Security (likely the last bill) and Democrats oppose this. 

Editorial note: The Analysis and Commentary section is written by Steven Grossman, Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

Advocacy at a Glance

September 20, 2019

Senate Unveils Proposed $80 Million Increase for FDA. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 20 Ag/FDA appropriations bill on September 19 (here and here). … READ MORE…

CR-Level Funding at Start of FY 20 Approaches Certainty

September 13, 2019

Congress is back and the FY 20 funding situation has evolved. … READ MORE …