House takes first steps on opioid bill

House takes first steps on opioid bill
© Getty Images

The House on Tuesday easily cleared three bills aimed at reducing opioid addiction, the first of more than a dozen bipartisan bills up for consideration this week.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly, 410-1, to approve legislation by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) which calls for a broad, five-year study into federal grants dedicated to preventing opioid abuse. Two other bills passed by voice vote earlier Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) was the only member to vote against the bill from McCarthy and Hoyer.

McCarthy called his measure a major step toward “accountability” in government programs aimed at halting and preventing addiction.

“We need to actually help stop the abuse, not just create programs to talk about it,” McCarthy said on the House floor just before the vote. “We need to use the power of data to determine whether these programs actually work.”

“This bill will help ensure that future investments ... are allocated in the most effective way possible,” Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, added.

The relatively minor pieces of legislation approved Tuesday are among 18 opioid bills slated for votes this week. All are expected to pass with broad bipartisan support, the office of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) said Tuesday. Hoyer also said Tuesday he believed the bills would “likely pass.”

At the same time as the vote, the House Rules Committee weeded through dozens of amendments on some of the remaining opioid bills. Among the most controversial of those bills is one from Rep. Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksHouse Republicans find silver lining in minority The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP 'retirements to watch' for MORE (R-Ind.) that calls for a review of prescriber practices — something that is opposed by some doctors groups.

Funding also remains a key issue for House Democrats and some Republicans, who believe more resources are needed to fight the national epidemic. 

House GOP leaders plan to merge their opioid bills — which do not include new funding — into a final package next week. That legislation will then be combined with the Senate’s opioid legislation, known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), to be ultimately sent to the president’s desk sometime this summer.

The two bills approved by voice vote earlier on Tuesday came from Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Frank Guinta (R-N.H.).

The bill from Bilirakis pushes the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand safety programs for patients using painkillers. The other, from Guinta, calls for a government study into “Good Samaritan” laws, which offer legal protection to people who seek medical attention for others who have overdosed on illegal drugs, even if they are used the same drugs themselves.

The Obama administration has not said whether it would support the package. Democrats from both chambers have criticized the lack of new funding in the bills, though GOP leaders have said they are looking for more funding during this year's annual appropriations process.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday his committee is “very interested” in securing more funding.

“There’s a parallel effort underway in the Appropriations Committee [to find the funding,]” Cole told the House Rules Committee on Tuesday. “Since it’s led by Chairman Rogers, it’s very likely to succeed.”