Congress gives but yet may take away

by Jay Sjerven
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The Food and Drug Administration in Nov-ember dodged an attempt by House Republicans to severely cut the agency’s funding for fiscal 2012 and actually secured a $49 million increase in appropriations for the current year. At the same time, the failure of the congressional “super committee” to present the full Congress a plan to find $1.2 trillion in budget savings over the next 10 years triggered a process that may result in across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending, including F.D.A. funding, in the same amount spread across 10 years beginning in fiscal 2013.

Legislation authorizing fiscal 2012 appropriations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies was attached to H.R. 2112, a continuing resolution that extended funding for other government agencies and programs until Dec. 26, 2011. The continuing resolution emerged from a Senate-House conference committee on Nov. 14 and was passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives on Nov. 17. President Barack Obama signed the measure into law on Nov. 18.

The F.D.A. budget authority for fiscal year 2012 was confirmed at $2,506 million, which was up $49 million from $2,457 million in fiscal year 2011 and up $145 million, or 6%, from $2,361 million in fiscal year 2010. The final 2012 budget number was the one sought by the Senate. The House bill would have cut F.D.A. funding by around $285 million from fiscal 2011 levels. The higher approved level of funding was required among other things to help implement the F.D.A. Food Safety Modernization Act.

The F.D.A.’s fiscal 2012 budget authority for its food programs was set at $866 million, up $30 million from $836 million in fiscal 2011 and up $82 million, or 10%, from $784 million in fiscal 2010.

“In light of some recent years when F.D.A. received sizable increases, a $50 million increase may not seem like much. But we faced and survived a $285 million cut that had passed the House,” said the Alliance for a Stronger F.D.A. in a statement issued Nov. 18. “Further, F.D.A. was one of only a handful of programs in the agriculture/F.D.A. appropriations bill cluster that received any increase. We applaud the Senate for proposing a $50 million increase for F.D.A., and we are grateful to the House for accepting this number rather than insisting on cuts.”

The alliance also praised Congress for not holding up U.S.D.A./F.D.A. appropriations until other government agencies received their final funding levels for the year.

“For the first time in several years, F.D.A. will know how much it has to spend at a time early enough in the fiscal year to be able to plan properly,” the alliance said.

Even as Congress enacted F.D.A. appropriations for fiscal year 2012, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction ac-knowledged it failed in efforts to find federal budget savings of $1.2 trillion over 10 years beginning in fiscal year 2013. The committee was established under the Budget Control Act of 2011 and was composed of 12 members of Congress, six Democrats and six Republicans. The committee’s failure set into motion a process that may require across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending totaling $1.2 trillion over the same 10 years.

“If nothing else happens, the consequences for F.D.A. are substantial and serious,” the F.D.A. alliance affirmed. “According to the analyses we have seen, F.D.A. (along with cost domestic discretionary programs) would probably be cut about 7.8% in fiscal year 2013.”

The alliance indicated the actual percentage the F.D.A. budget would be slashed was not yet certain and would be based on several assumptions about the implementation of what the alliance said would be a complex process.

“Until we have better numbers, we are assuming that F.D.A. would incur an automatic cut (in fiscal year 2013) of $150 million to $250 million (6% to 10%),” the F.D.A. alliance said.

Members of Congress may attempt to fashion and enact an alternative equally ambitious deficit-reduction plan before the automatic cutbacks take effect, but the success of any such effort was far from certain given the current political climate.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration was preparing its own budget proposal for fiscal year 2013. It is traditional for the president to unveil his budget proposal for the next fiscal year not long after the State of the Union Speech before Congress in January.

“The alliance understands that the threat of sequestration (the automatic across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending) will hang over the F.D.A. appropriation process, which is already likely to be quite difficult for fiscal year 2013,” the alliance said.

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