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FY 20 Appropriations: How, When, and Why?

November 11, 2019

Q: Historically, appropriations bills have passed Congress based on an informal hierarchy of which bills are harder or easier to advance. Where does Ag/FDA stand in the current cycle for FY 20?

A: For many years, the Agriculture/FDA appropriations bill advanced fourth to sixth of the 12 bills. That is, not among the easiest bills, but generally considered non-controversial. Last year, the pattern was broken by DOD and Labor-HHS going first in a bipartisan swap of interests. Everything else wound up funded by a CR, drawn into the shutdown and finally enacted in a large omnibus bill. This year’s plan to advance DOD and L-HHS first fell apart and Ag/FDA is in the first minibus (of four bills) to pass the Senate.

Q: If the single largest barrier to wrapping up appropriations is border wall funding, why can’t Congress find a “split the difference” type compromise? 

A: That is probably what will happen as the last step before a deal is reached on FY 20 appropriations bills. In the meantime, there are three related issues that make it hard to isolate border wall funding to reach a compromise. First, the Senate bills creates a perception that L-HHS (below average increase) is funding border wall construction at Homeland Security (above average increase).  Second, the President declared a national emergency in order to transfer more than $3 billion in FY 19 from appropriations for military construction to pay for border wall funding that would otherwise come from appropriations for homeland security. This is viewed by many as a violation of the Congress’ constitutional powers to set funding. Third, regardless of the power/constitutional issues, the transfer of funds has created a very large pool of unfunded military construction projects for which the Administration wants additional funding in FY 20.

Q: Why will the House have to reduce its overall FY 20 spending levels and where does that leave FDA?

A: In order to get started on appropriations bills before a budget deal (BBA) was agreed upon, the House “deemed” a top-line spending number and allocated a portion to each subcommittee. As a negotiating tactic, the House numbers were intentionally high. As a result, the final non-defense spending caps in the BBA are about $15 billion below the House levels. The Senate, with the budget deal numbers available to them, was able to craft bills that fit within the BBA. For FDA and most other agencies hoping for a funding bump in FY 20, the implication is that the Senate numbers may be a more realistic prediction of how much funding will be available to spend. We would still hope to get the House increase for FDA (+$ 184 million) because the monies are small enough that funds might be found elsewhere in the Ag/FDA bill. However, FDA’s final numbers might be closer to the Senate’s (+$80 million).

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

November 11, 2019

Top-Line: A November 21 shutdown now seems unlikely, but Congress will still need to pass a new CR that extends into December. … READ MORE …

Another Perspective on the FY 20 Tea Leaves

November 1, 2019

Last week’s Analysis and Commentary explored why the 302(b) subcommittee allocations are the key to moving FY 20 appropriations bills forward. … READ MORE …

Advocacy at a Glance

November 1, 2019

TOP LINE: The Senate moved forward on a FY 20 minibus funding bill that includes Ag/FDA, but progress beyond that appears to be blocked. … READ MORE …

Establishing Order: The Chickens and the Eggs

October 25, 2019

Despite the substantive and political complexity of this year’s budget fight, it all comes down to whether Congress can reach an agreement on 302(b) subcommittee spending allocations. … READ MORE …

Advocacy at a Glance

October 25, 2019

Final Senate Action on “Domestic” Minibus (Including Ag/FDA) Set for Next Week. … READ MORE …

Is Another Shutdown a Real Possibility?

October 19, 2019

House and Senate leadership, particularly on the appropriations committees, would like nothing better than to pass appropriations bills before the CR runs out on November 21. The odds were never good, but have grown steeper with reports that little or no progress has been made during the two-week congressional recess.

If needed, the next CR would probably extend four more weeks until December 19. Failing resolution by that date, then a subsequent CR would probably extend to February 15 or a similar date that provides more time for negotiations after New Year’s. At some point, Congress could decide that resolution is not possible and pass full-year CRs for all or part of the federal government. (As we have reported earlier, a full-year CR is not a good outcome for FDA.)

However, there are strong countervailing pressures on Congress to keep talking and not to declare the process futile. Notably, failure on FY 20 funding makes it virtually certain that FY 21 will be funded on a Continuing Resolution through February 15 or March 31, 2021. That is, if FY 20 can’t be resolved, the appropriations process is broken until after the 2020 elections and the convening of the new Congress. Eighteen months of government funding by CR would leave both parties (and the nation) with an enormous set of uncertainties.

All of this suggests extended, undoubtedly painful negotiations, probably over months. However, on October 17, the Washington Post speculated that a shutdown is a possibility and might occur when the current CR expires on November 21. The key sentences from the WP story:

Trump is not interested in signing other domestic spending bills until there is agreement on the border wall, according to a senior administration official …. Funding for many federal agencies expires Nov. 21, and an impasse would lead to a sizable government shutdown, bigger in scope than what happened less than one year ago.

While a shutdown is always a possibility when a Continuing Resolution comes to an end, the consequences are so drastic that it is rarely seen as an acceptable or likely option. Even in the face of this provocative news story, it is easier to imagine this is saber-rattling on the part of the Administration rather than a serious threat. However, as last winter’s shutdown demonstrated, anything can happen in the current political environment. The possibility of the Administration forcing a shutdown cannot be dismissed as an idle threat.

While taking it seriously, there would seem to be two strong arguments for why a shutdown is unlikely to occur in November. First, shutdowns are not popular, and the White House and Congressional Republicans must anticipate taking the blame, as they did last winter. The closer we get to November 21, the more we would expect Republicans to urge the President to defer any drastic actions until a subsequent CR.

Secondly, the consequences of a shutdown in November would be far more extreme than last winter. At that time, both Defense and Labor-HHS bills had already become law, meaning that 70% of all federal discretionary spending was not affected. The more federal funds that are impacted, the greater the likelihood that taxpayers and voters will feel the consequences of a shutdown personally. Further, the Pentagon and defense industries are a strong lobbying force that was not involved in the prior shutdown.

Recognizing the already-demonstrated negative impact of an FDA shutdown, the Alliance will continue to monitor this situation closely and report to the stakeholder community through the Friday Update and, as needed, other means.

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