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. 

Republican Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteOvernight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq Overnight Defense: New START extended for five years | Austin orders 'stand down' to tackle extremism | Panel recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal Study group recommends Biden delay Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (N.H.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (Ill.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanKellyanne Conway joins Ohio Senate candidate's campaign OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Senate confirms Biden's pick to lead White House environmental council MORE (Ohio), who are facing tough reelection bids, as well as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle MORE (Maine) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' Leaving Afghanistan: Is it victory or defeat? 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 McConnellMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Democrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study 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."
The bill — from Portman and Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLawmakers say fixing border crisis is Biden's job Democrats wrestle over tax hikes for infrastructure Democrats look to impose capital gains tax at death MORE (D-R.I.) — authorizes but doesn't appropriate funding for programs to combat prescription drug and heroin abuse in addition to increasing the availability of naloxone, a drug to treat overdose.
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 SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Capitol Police officer killed in car attack lies in honor in Capitol Rotunda 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 blocked an amendment from Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Democrats get good news from IRS IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting trillion MORE that the Oregon Democrat said would help ensure those with drug addiction are "connected to meaningful treatment choices."