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“Governing,” Not “Campaigning,” Key to Post-Election FDA

Since last week’s two columns on “FDA After the Election” (here and here or a combined version here), FDA Matters has been treated to some wild speculation about what will happen next. I have been told, in effect, that “if Obama is re-elected, there will be massive new industry regulation” and also that “if Romney is elected, FDA will be transformed into a non-entity that only says ‘yes’ to industry.”

What history tells us is different: whoever wins will have the burden of governing. As a result, massive new regulation is no more likely than FDA becoming a toothless regulatory agency. Winners, it turns out, spend a lot of time explaining why campaign promises haven’t been translated into action.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion—particularly to imagine their own worst fears.

My advice, however, is to pour a glass of your favorite beverage (alcoholic or not) and watch the election returns with the calm that is appropriate for democratic elections in the United States. Our Founding Fathers intentionally created a system of checks and balances that limits the ability of any one party or any one election to radically re-create government institutions.

FDA is one of those institutions that is changeable (which is actually a good thing), but not likely to be transformed into something dramatically different.

If Obama Wins.  Year 5 of an incumbent President almost always stresses changes in personnel and policies, rather than continuity.  The focus will shift toward new ways of dealing with budget and fiscal matters, jobs and unemployment, and stabilizing our nation’s global position while winding down our involvement in Afghanistan.  Implementing ObamaCare will likewise be a key priority, as major provisions of the law go into effect over the next few years.

While Obama’s focus will follow the campaign promises, the specific actions will probably not. Most likely, he will still be dealing with a hostile House of Representatives and a sharply divided Senate. Events will occur that will also reshape what happens—something unforeseeable like 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy or something foreseeable like a massive fight over the next extension of the federal debt ceiling.

Given this larger picture, what is the probability that FDA will suddenly turn regulation-happy and start a major push to burden industry? I say “none at all.” The entire tenor of Commissioner Hamburg’s tenure—public statements and actions—has been to try to create more science-based decisionmaking, publish more guidances for industry, and to listen to both Congress and industry about FDA’s role in supporting medical innovation.

If there is more regulation in 2013 and 2014, it will be largely to satisfy the legal requirements of new laws passed by Congress on a bi-partisan basis over the last three years. If that winds up feeling excessive to industry, it will certainly not be because of President Obama’s philosophy.

If Romney Wins. Year 1 of a new President is inherently one of change—but remembering back to four years ago, one could argue that the predominant motif is uncertainty, not change. If Governor Romney is elected, there will be a continuous stream of speculation. Nobody knows…and those fearing the worst will get the most attention.

A newly-elected President Romney will actually be dealing with the same issues as President Obama would be: budget and fiscal matters, jobs and unemployment, foreign policy and implementing (or failing to implement) ObamaCare.  FDA will be very low on the list of priorities—if it appears at all. (A conclusion also reached by Matthew Herper of Forbes).

What changes should we expect with a Romney victory and when will we know? The answer is nothing too dramatic and it will take months to play itself out.

I have argued that a Romney Administration would do best to find a well-known, well-respected, candidate who could win easy Senate confirmation. Taking me at my word, Ed Silverman in a Pharmalot column has suggested that Romney could nominate a well-respected commissioner to cut back on safety and speed up approvals (i.e. carry out Romney’s campaign promises and please industry). However, Senate confirmation will not be easy for such an individual—regardless of how well respected—unless they commit to fairly specific boundaries for such changes. (If Romney wins, you will be hearing much more about this in future columns).

If you are an American citizen, please take the time to vote.


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