Senate Dems vow fight over drug abuse funding

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A funding fight is threatening a bipartisan bill aimed at fighting the epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse. 

{mosads}Senate Democrats said Thursday they will seek to attach $600 million in emergency funding when the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) comes to the Senate floor after next week’s recess. 

Democrats said CARA is a good first step, but faulted it for only authorizing new spending, meaning that any dollars actually going out would depend on the appropriations process. They say that emergency appropriations are needed. 

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, stopped short of vowing to filibuster the bill if the new funding is not added, but said a fight is coming. 

“We’re going to fight hard to get the funding on the floor and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said when asked about a filibuster at a press conference on Thursday. 

Schumer said Republicans only want to look like they’re doing something to address the opioid abuse crisis, describing their approach as: “Pass bills with authorizations, put the names of senators who are up for reelection on them. But don’t put the money in.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office shot back at the Democrats’ move, pointing out that the bipartisan spending bill in December approved more than $400 million to fight the opioid epidemic, a $100 million increase.

“We certainly hope that our friends on the other side of the aisle aren’t looking for a justification to try and block a bipartisan bill addressing a national crisis,” said McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer.

He said the normal process is to authorize spending and then appropriate it, as a way to maintain “fiscal discipline and the fundamentals of the budget agreement reached last year.”

“It’s understandable that Senate Democrats have forgotten how this process works since they abandoned it so long ago,” he added.

CARA advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan vote earlier on Thursday. It authorizes about $80 million in funding, while also working to make sure that existing funds are spent on high-quality programs. 

The bill includes a range of initiatives including increasing education and prevention, as well as boosting the availability of naloxone, a drug to treat overdoses. 

Democrats say that what is really needed is a $600 million emergency funding bill from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). 

The bill would provide funds to support state drug treatment and prevention programs. It would also fund prescription drug monitoring programs, which are electronic databases of prescriptions that help identify when prescription drugs are being abused. 

Both parties have agreed that prescription drug and heroin abuse is a crisis needing a response. More Americans now die from drug overdoses than from car crashes. Opioid overdose deaths are rising sharply, reaching 28,648 in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The battle also plays into the fight for the Senate in November. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who faces a tough reelection race, has been touting his sponsorship of CARA.

Portman recently said he supports additional funding to fight the opioid epidemic, beyond the additional funds in December’s spending bill, but he has not said exactly what level he supports.

His office said Thursday that Portman doesn’t want to play politics with the CARA vote.

“Senator Portman supports providing more resources to combat the heroin epidemic, but let’s not play politics with this bipartisan addiction and recovery bill, which is strongly supported by more than 120 national anti-drug groups,” said Kevin Smith, a Portman spokesman. 

This story was updated at 2:23 p.m. 

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Jeanne Shaheen Mitch McConnell Rob Portman
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