Senate

Bipartisan senators urge Congress to fund fight to curb opioid crisis

Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators is calling on Congress to provide significant funding to battle the opioid epidemic — and quickly.

The nine senators hail from areas the epidemic has hit particularly hard, and are arguing there’s an “urgent need for Congress to provide our states with the resources they need to deal with this public health emergency” in a letter sent Friday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“As the Senate considers pending supplemental and omnibus appropriation legislation, please make every effort to ensure that new, substantial and sustained funding for the opioid epidemic is included in any legislative package,” the senators wrote.

Democratic leaders have been pressing for any larger spending deal to include more funding to combat the crisis killing thousands of Americans each year, but GOP leader have not committed to more funding.

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“We’ve done a lot, put a lot of resources into combatting opioids already,” the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, John Thune (S.D.), said last week. “If they’ve got a proposal, I’m sure we would take a look at it, but I don’t know that that’s at least on the agenda at the moment.”

The epidemic has been plaguing both rural and urban areas across the country, leading to the rate of opioid overdose deaths quadrupling since 1999.

In late October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, though the move didn’t free up money nor did it include a specific funding ask to Congress. Democratic lawmakers and some advocates panned the measure as ineffective unless it includes a robust infusion of federal funds.

The senators’ letter noted comments from a Dec. 4 press conference, where Eric Hargan — acting secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services — said the administration is “looking forward to hearing from Congress about how they intend to address this issue.”

“That means it is up to us to act,” the senators wrote.

The senators who signed onto the letter include Democratic Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine), as well as independent Sen. Angus King (Maine.)  

At a press briefing Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to specify an amount or a timeline for additional money.

“The amount of money that it will take to combat this crisis is huge. We’re going to continue looking at the best ways to do that,” she said. “We’re working in an interagency process to see what that number looks like.”

When a reporter pressed if the appropriation would come by the end of the year, Sanders said, “I’m not aware that we can promise that a full funding for that would take place by the end of this year. This wasn’t a problem that happened overnight. We’re not going to be able to fix it overnight.”

Tags Angus King Bob Casey Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Jeanne Shaheen Joe Manchin John Thune Lisa Murkowski Maggie Hassan Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell Opioid epidemic Shelley Moore Capito Susan Collins Tammy Baldwin

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