The supercommittee, now dubbed a super-failure, has officially thrown in the towel, which could mean big budget cuts for public health agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The bipartisan “super” panel of lawmakers was set up to help resolve a summer-long standoff over raising the debt ceiling. Twelve lawmakers — six Democrats and six Republicans, half from the House, half from the Senate — were supposed to come up with a proposal to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. They were supposed to do this by today and the deal was supposed to clear Congress by Christmas, but Monday the committee announced there would be no deal.
“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline,” said the panel co-chairs in a statement.
Under the Budget Control Act, supercommittee failure means automatic budget cuts, also known as sequestration, to Medicare, defense, and discretionary spending.
If the law stands as is, the consequences for FDA are “substantial and serious,” according to the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, a coalition of industry and consumer groups trying to boost capacity at the agency.
The Alliance estimates that FDA — and most domestic discretionary programs, including other key public health agencies — would be cut about 7.8 percent in FY 13. As the group noted to its members in an update Tuesday, “this percentage is not definitive, but rather based on a host of assumptions about implementation of a very complex process. Until we have better numbers, we are assuming that FDA would incur an automatic cut of $150- to $250 million (6% to 10%).”
Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, warned earlier this month that supercommittee failure could be disastrous for public health — as well as defense, security, and economic competitiveness.
“Failure is not an option,” wrote Dicks. “I don’t need to rehash the bleak prospects for our nation if Congress can’t agree on a balanced, long-term deficit reduction plan.”
Dicks discussed the impact sequestration could have on FDA’s budget in particular: “This would lead to fewer FDA staff including those who inspect our domestic and imported foods. It would also lead to a sharp reduction in the number of samples of food and medical products coming into our country from overseas…FDA would be unable to implement recent legislation to improve the food safety system.”
According to Dick’s analysis, the situation would be similar for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Sequestration would set FSIS’ budget back to the pre-2008 level, even though the demand for domestic meat inspection is growing.
“This would result in furloughs or shortages in federal inspectors at slaughter and processing plants. Since plants cannot operate without inspectors, the plants would have to operate fewer hours or close their doors. This will hurt plants, local economies, and workers, producers and consumers, as prices rise,” notes the letter.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an indispensable part of the food safety system, would take a $440 million cut.
Of course, political pundits and lawmakers have started to discuss ways to artfully avoid the mandated cuts, but President Obama announced he would veto any
As of now, it looks like the only way for Congress to avoid sequestration is to do what the supercommittee could not: craft and approve meaningful long term deficit reduction.