President Obama is pressuring congressional Republicans to make good on their promise to fix the nation’s broken mental health system, which the GOP has frequently blamed for gun violence.
As part of his wide-reaching efforts to rein in gun violence, Obama on Tuesday called for a half-billion dollars in new mental health spending, taunting the GOP on their failure to pass a mental health reform bill since pledging to do so in 2013.
Unlike his other proposals, which will be made through executive actions, the $500 million allocation must come from Congress — something that Obama said Republicans should be feel obligated to support.
In a briefing after the speech, White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated that he doesn’t expect the GOP to support the funding request because the party is unwilling to support the president’s health efforts generally.
“It’s hard to take seriously [Republican] claims that they’re actually interested in ensuring that people have access to mental healthcare,” Earnest said.
“If they are actually willing to work seriously with the administration to invest $500 million in expanding access to mental healthcare, I’m happy to be proved wrong,” he said.
The remarks intend to push congressional Republicans who have pledged to strengthen the mental health system as an alternative to new restrictions on guns, but have been unable to coalesce around a plan.
GOP leaders first pledged to bolster the mental health system in 2013, shortly after the shooting in Newtown, Conn. Since then, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) has struggled to gain widespread support for his mental health bill, though it has gained momentum in recent months.
Murphy’s office delivered a sharp rebuke of Obama's funding proposal in a statement Tuesday.
"The federal government spends billions of dollars on mental health programs that are uncoordinated, lack oversight, and simply don’t work," Murphy's statement reads.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who leads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also released a statement, disputing the Obama administration's claims that Republicans have ignored the issue.
“Mental health reform has been and continues to be a priority for 2016," Upton wrote in a statement. "We’ve been on the case to reform our mental health system, and we welcome the president to the discussion."
- Updated at 6:26 p.m.