Senate

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. 

Senators voted 48-47 on a procedural hurdle to an amendment from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), with 60 votes needed to move forward.
 
{mosads}Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), who are facing tough reelection bids, as well as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lindsey Graham (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 McConnell (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 Whitehouse (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 Schumer (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 Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (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. 
 
Senators also blocked an amendment from Sen. Ron Wyden that the Oregon Democrat said would help ensure those with drug addiction are “connected to meaningful treatment choices.” 
Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Dianne Feinstein Jeanne Shaheen Kelly Ayotte Lindsey Graham Mark Kirk Mitch McConnell Rob Portman Ron Wyden Sheldon Whitehouse Susan Collins

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