News Column

Federal Shutdown Would Cut Off Drug Research

September 26, 2013

David Sell, The Philadelphia Inquirer

health insurance drug research

Sept. 26--If Congress does not pass funding legislation and much of the federal government shuts down Tuesday, scientific research and drug approvals will be among the activities curtailed or halted.

The Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are among the agencies whose functions are funded each year through 12 bills passed by lawmakers in Washington.

In 1995, when the last government shutdown occurred because of similar Republican-Democratic discord, Congress had already passed the legislation funding the FDA, so the agency continued to operate.

This time, Congress is 0-for-12 -- and that doesn't count raising the debt ceiling, which is a greater concern but no less contentious.

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner that current calculations estimate the government will be down to $30 billion in cash by Oct. 17 and that its daily expenses often exceed $60 billion.

"The United States should never have to choose, for example, whether to pay Social Security to seniors, pay benefits to our veterans, or make payments to state and local jurisdictions and health-care providers under Medicare and Medicaid," Lew said in the letter, posted on the Treasury Department website.

If 41 million seniors don't get their Social Security checks, their protests would likely drown out any complaints from drug companies about a halt to new drug approvals. But if the debt ceiling is raised -- the United States has never defaulted -- and Social Security checks go out, that still does not necessarily mean the FDA will be funded.

Asked which FDA functions might be deemed essential and continue during a shutdown, FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson referred questions to the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

OMB spokeswoman Emily Cain said the White House was willing to work with Congress on another short-term continuing resolution to fund government operations that need yearly appropriations. (Some elements are "permanent," including the Affordable Care Act.) But details on what keeps going and what stops are still being worked out.

"Agencies are still in the process of reviewing relevant legal requirements and updating their plans," Cain said via e-mail. "Determinations about specific programs are being actively reviewed as agencies undertake this process."




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Original headline: Federal shutdown would affect drug research

Source: (c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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