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FDA Funding and the Appropriations Drama

The process for passing appropriations bills should be similar from one year to the next. After all, it is a one-directional, regimented process. It always starts with "total available funds" and a baseline of current spending programs and concludes when the President signs an appropriations bill into law. And there are only 12 such bills that have to pass each year.

Yet, I have been through 30 or so appropriations cycles and each one seems to have its own unique story to tell. This year’s efforts would make a riveting "made for television" movie "based on a true story."  FDA Matters doesn’t know how it will end, especially for FDA.

Here is a summary of the plot thus far:

The Democratic-controlled, but still badly divided Congress, failed to pass any of the 12 appropriations bills that fund the entire trillion-dollar federal government. Usually, Congress passes at least the Defense and Homeland Security bills. Past deadlocks have mostly been limited to the other ten bills. 

In addition to disputes over total funding and specific program allocations, Congress has been bedeviled by a continuing fight over appropriations earmarks. In both Houses, there are Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the question. Some argue that earmarks are a wasteful, expensive process that epitomizes Congress’ lack of commitment to deficit reduction. Others argue that earmarks are one of the few ways that Congress can reduce the discretionary prerogatives of the Executive Branch.

In late September, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund government from October 1 (start of the new fiscal year) to December 3. The government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. on December 4 unless Congress passes another CR, an omnibus funding bill or individual appropriations bills. The current CR creates no priorities; virtually the entire government will have spent the first 9 weeks of the FY 11 fiscal year operating under the same ceilings as the FY 10 spending levels. While this postponed difficult decisions until after Election Day, a further short extension of the CR is possible to December 10 or 17.  

Republicans picked up more than 60 seats in the House and will be the majority party starting in January. Democrats maintained control of the Senate for next year, but will go from a 59-41 advantage to a 53-47 margin. Understandably, Democrats want to accomplish as much as possible in the post-election session, while Republicans are inclined to defer most things to the new Congress. However, these do not reflect hard lines—what "might be possible" changes daily, sometimes hourly.

The House and Senate appropriations committees have tried to put together an omnibus FY 11 spending bill (i.e. decide on the content of all 12 funding bills separately, then roll them into one legislative package). Supposedly, they had leadership encouragement to do this, but there doesn’t appear to be much enthusiasm outside of the appropriations committees.  However, most of the hard staff work on this seems to be done. A less expensive version of the bill might have a chance to pass.

Where does FDA stand in this drama? Bad scenarios for the agency include a Continuing Resolution set at the FY 10 levels or, worse, a CR that imposes across-the-board cuts. The best scenario is the omnibus bill, on the assumption that this will incorporate decisions about priorities. Any funding bill in which some programs do better than others (which could be a CR as well as an omnibus), gives FDA the best chance to received increased resources for FY 11.


FDA and Election 2010: Deficit Reduction and Appropriations       November 6th, 2010

So-called "wave elections"–where one party overwhelms the other–are particularly hard to judge. The ground rules are going to change dramatically– in ways that no one can fully anticipate. At first, each side refuses to compromise. Then, something happens that sets the pattern for whether people will work together and on what issues. This may take months to resolve or may occur before the new Congress arrives. As things change, FDA Matters thinks there are some key issues for FDA-watchers to monitor.  Read the rest of this entry

Deficit Hawks in the New Congress Threaten FDA Funding     October 17th, 2010

FDA Matters doesn’t know who the majority party in the House and Senate will be next year. There seem to be a very large number of races where incumbents are vulnerable or are too close to call. The fate of FDA will be driven by the post-election tone of Congress, more than by the fates of individual Members or who holds the majority.  Read the rest of this entry

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