Senate passes opioid abuse bill

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan opioid abuse bill Thursday, despite Democratic concerns about a lack of funding tied to the legislation.  

Senators voted 94-1 on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) voted against it, saying he wasn’t sure fighting addition was best addressed by the federal government. 

{mosads}Democrats took to the Senate floor ahead of the vote to express their disappointment that most Republicans had rejected an amendment from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to include $600 million in emergency funding. 

They argue the amendment was needed to make sure money gets quickly to communities ravaged by the drug epidemic. 

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who supported the legislation, slammed Republicans, saying, “They want to do things on the cheap, they want to pass things to pat ourselves on the back.” 

Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), argue there’s approximately $400 million included in last year’s omnibus spending bill that could be directed to CARA. 

The legislation — from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Whitehouse, authorizes but doesn’t appropriate funding for programs to combat prescription opioid abuse, in addition to increasing the availability of naloxone, a drug to treat overdose.

While House lawmakers have introduced their own bills, Portman suggested Thursday he was hopeful they would be able to avoid a conference committee. 

Portman said he’d left a voicemail and sent a text message to discuss the issue with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

“I think there’s strong interest in the House of moving this legislation,” he added. “I think we have a very good prospect of getting this done.”

An identical version of the Senate’s bill in the House has 92 co-sponsors. 

Despite the funding fight, lawmakers heaped praise on the legislation for weeks, arguing that it’s a necessary step after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that overdose deaths reached an all-time high in 2014.  

During a weekly press conference where he was peppered with questions about the budget and the 2016 presidential race, McConnell quickly noted that “at the risk of sounding like I’m lecturing all of you, just because something passes overwhelmingly doesn’t mean it wasn’t important.” 

The legislation gives the Republican leader an election-year win as he looks to prove the Senate can still govern amid a deeply partisan fight over President Obama’s forthcoming Supreme Court pick. 

It also marks a boon for blue-state Republicans, including Portman, who have put combating the opioid epidemic at the center of their reelection campaigns as they seek to put space between their elections and a divisive presidential battle. 

McConnell gave a shoutout to Portman and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on the Senate floor Thursday morning, saying the New Hampshire Republican “cares deeply about this issue and has studied the problem carefully.” 

Democrats have targeted Portman and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), suggesting they are touting CARA while brushing over mixed voting records on opioid abuse funding. 

Both of the senators voted against a spending bill late last year that included extra funding to help combat opioid abuse, though their opposition was unrelated to the funding for the drug overdose crisis. 

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) each missed the vote. Rubio signed on as a co-sponsor to the legislation a day before the New Hampshire primary. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Claire McCaskill Jeanne Shaheen Kelly Ayotte Marco Rubio Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Rob Portman Sherrod Brown Ted Cruz
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