Senate GOP blocks emergency funding for opioid epidemic
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic push to add $600 million in emergency funding to an otherwise bipartisan opioid abuse bill Wednesday. 

 
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Republican Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteThe Hill's Morning Report: Koch Network re-evaluating midterm strategy amid frustrations with GOP Audit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years MORE (N.H.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (Ill.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanEx-McConnell policy aide joining lobby firm WATCH: Sen. Flake: “More doubtful” North Korean summit will happen  Lobbying world MORE (Ohio), who are facing tough reelection bids, as well as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Trump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress Dem rep to launch discharge petition to force net neutrality vote in House MORE (Maine) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Graham: Trump will 'end North Korea’s threat to the American homeland' in his first term Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers weigh in after Texas school shooting MORE (S.C.), broke rank and supported it. 
 
Democrats argue the money is needed to get help quickly to communities ravaged by prescription drug and heroin addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that overdose deaths reached an all-time high in 2014. 
 
"Passing [the opioid bill] without any funding is like offering a life preserver to people who are drowning and not putting air in that life preserver," Shaheen said ahead of the vote. 
 
While they've pushed for weeks to get the funding included in the opioid bill, key Democrats suggested that the caucus would still support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), even if it weren't included. 
 
Republicans, however, argue that there are potentially hundreds of millions available for CARA as part of the omnibus spending bill passed late last year. 
 
"I would ... note that Congress has already appropriated $400 million to opioid-specific programs, too," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators near deal on sexual harassment policy change Blankenship third-party bid worries Senate GOP Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' MORE (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. “All $400 million of those funds still remain available to be spent today." 
 
He added that lawmakers should not let the opioid bill "get tangled in politics."
 
 
Democrats, however, have voiced skepticism about the GOP's argument suggesting that the omnibus money was meant for other programs and not CARA.
 
"That would indeed have been an astonishing, indeed truly magical, feat of prediction," Whitehouse said. "What kind of wizards do we think our appropriators must have been eight months ago?" 
 
The Rhode Island Democrat added that when senators started work on spending bills last year, CARA had yet to receive a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. 
 
Republicans were under pressure from outside groups to block Shaheen's amendment. 
 
Heritage Action for America sent out a "key vote" notice shortly before the vote, adding that "demanding that Congress provide $600 million in emergency funding outside of the budget caps to address opioid abuse is either fiscally unserious, cynical political opportunism, or both."
 
Referring to pressure from conservative groups, Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' Free traders applaud Trump as China tariff threat recedes The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ MORE (D-N.Y.) slammed Republicans, saying, "When it comes time to put their money where their mouth is and provide resources to those on the front lines, the far right grabs the reins and Republicans are left merely paying lip service to these critical problems." 
 
The vote on the amendment comes after senators had spent hours on the Senate floor over the past week giving, at times emotional, speeches about the impact of drug addiction back in their home states. 
 
Senators also approved an amendment from Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDOJ, Trump reach deal on expanded Russia review Congress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus MORE (D-Calif.) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP chairman in talks with 'big pharma' on moving drug pricing bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure MORE (R-Iowa) on international drug traffickers, as well as a separate amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that cracked down on the over-prescription of painkillers.