There’s a lot of consternation and maybe even a little constipation of late about the U.S. federal budget, and rightly so. If the White House and Congress can’t come to some resolution about budget sequestration, the FDA budget could tighten enough that user fees would disappear, which would cripple the agency. Complicating matters further is the series of tax issues – a convergence dubbed the fiscal cliff – that ripen at the end of this year, giving everyone inside the Beltway more to worry about.
This is all difficult enough without an election, so it’s easy to be pessimistic. And it’s tough to tell whether this is a game of chicken between Republicans and Democrats, or a case of lemmings of all stripes headed over a cliff.
So, how worried should we be?
As matters stand, the House of Representatives has passed a continuing resolution to fund government operations for the first six months of fiscal 2013 at roughly current levels. So far, so good, especially since the user fee calendar aligns with the federal fiscal year. All that waits now is a Senate vote, which President Obama can be safely presumed to sign.
The situation at FDA is a really outstanding reason to give the cooler heads in Washington more time at the mike. After all, there’s nothing like the specter of counterfeit drugs and devices flooding American medicine cabinets and hospitals to give a legislator a queasy stomach. There isn’t a whole lot of clarity on the question of whether sequestration would affect device user fees, as Mark Leahey, President/CEO of the Medical Device Manufacturers Association told me last week. And a lot of people would argue FDA is about as useful as a screen door in a submarine should the sequester damage or eliminate all the various user fees at FDA.
As for the tax issues that make up the fiscal cliff, I suspect the outcome will help the economy at least a little no matter which way it goes. Assuming business is still on the sidelines over unpredictability, even a tax increase would bolster some additional investment if only because everyone would then know what they’re working with. Incidentally, whoever is sitting in the Oval Office after inauguration day will get some credit for an economic boost, regardless of whether they helped (or hindered) the process.
So I think our elected officials will muddle through the budget and the fiscal cliff. Easy to say, I know, but believe it or not, all those cynical you-know-whats in Washington really do care. Besides, who wants to go down in history as the clown posse who ran the world’s largest economy into the ground?
Beyond that, anyone who needs votes to keep their job has to remember that this big a deal won’t be forgotten if they botch it, and in that event it won’t be a case of lemmings running over the cliff come election day 2014. It’ll be a case of chickens being heaved over the cliff by an angry mob. If nothing else gets Washington’s attention, that will.