With Cuts to FDA Looming, Congress Prepares to Adjourn--Again

Posted 18 September 2012 | By Alexander Gaffney, RAC 

Federal programs, including those of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are under seige. Under the combined terms of a proposed budget resolution and budget sequestration, FDA stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in both congressionally appropriated and user fee-generated funding during the 2013 fiscal year. And, with just three months left in which to restore funding to FDA, Congress is preparing to adjourn-again.

The Hill reports that the Senate has only three more work days scheduled-18-20 September-before its members go back to their respective districts to campaign. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is scheduled to work 19-21 September before also adjourning for the election recess.

The unusually brief session has only been in order since 10 September, when both the Senate and House came back from a month-long August recess marked by the presence of both parties' political conventions. Their current departures makes it unlikely that either will return-barring an emergency-before the 6 November election, though such events are not unprecedented.

Impact on FDA

Their absence through November also places greater time pressures on legislators when they return to avert massive funding cuts to federal agencies under the Budget Control Act, which an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report released on 14 September revealed would cut more than $318 million from FDA, including approximately $112 million in user fees.

It also grants legislators a smaller window of opportunity in which to restore funding to newly established user fee programs passed into law in July 2012 under the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, which passed both houses of Congress nearly unanimously. Because the current budget resolution extends the fiscal year 2012 budget, otherwise known as a continuing resolution, new programs-even ones not costing the government any money-would not be allowed to go into effect unless amendments to the legislation were offered.

"Since the fees didn't exist in FY2012, there's literally nothing to continue," said Steven Grossman, deputy director of the FDA advocacy group Alliance for a Stronger FDA, in an interview with Regulatory Focus. Grossman said that most years, this oversight would not be problematic to fix, but that unusual levels of partisan gridlock and election-year bickering has put a damper on the prospects for such a markup.

Congress is likely to be back in session in seven weeks, starting on 13 November before being interrupted by another week-long break for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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