Democrats hold up Senate opioids bill over 'earmark' for PhRMA-backed group

Democrats hold up Senate opioids bill over 'earmark' for PhRMA-backed group
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Democrats are objecting to a bill in the Senate aimed at curbing the opioid crisis because of a GOP provision they say is an earmark for one PhRMA-funded advocacy group.
The provision, added by Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate coronavirus bill delayed until Thursday Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Bottom line MORE (R-Texas), has sparked concern among Democrats, who say it would only benefit the Addiction Policy Forum, an advocacy group funded by PhRMA, according to a source familiar.
The provision would authorize the U.S. attorney general to make grants to entities that focus on addiction and substance-abuse disorders and meets other criteria.
But the Addiction Policy Forum is the only group that meets that criteria, essentially making the provision an "earmark" for the group, Democrats argue.
Cornyn added the provision after the bill passed out of committee, the source said.
Democrats are insisting the provision is removed before the Senate votes on the bill, and won't accept assurances from some Republicans that it will be fixed in conference.
PhRMA partnered with the Addiction Policy Forum in December to implement the group's four-year vision plan to help solve the opioid crisis.
The forum has received criticism for accepting money from the pharmaceutical industry, which experts say contributed to the epidemic.
A spokesperson for Cornyn did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the Addiction Policy Forum said the accusations were "unfounded."
"We believe deeply that patients and families in crisis are in dire need of the resources made available in this bipartisan piece of legislation that has already passed committee with broad support," the organization said in a statement.
"We encourage members from both parties to avoid holding this legislation up based on unfounded accusations. The intent of this legislation is to help impacted individuals, not any one organization, and is far too important for this type of politics."
According to text of the provision provided to The Hill, it would apply to private, nonprofit national organizations that focus on addiction and substance use disorders, and specialize in family and patient services, advocacy for patients and families, and educational information. 
Such groups must engage in seven specific activities, like expansions of phone lines or call center services for families and individuals impacted by substance use disorders and training of community stakeholders on issues related to substance use disorders, social issues, and other issues related to the drug epidemic. 
The provision would allow for no more than $10 million for the grants for each of the fiscal years between 2018 and 2022. 
Despite the disagreement, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade A Biden stumble on China? MORE (D-N.Y.) sounded an optimistic note Wednesday, telling reporters that there were only two outstanding issues that he hoped to resolve soon.
"We're making very good progress. I have to give Sen. McConnell credit. This is something we're working very well together on," he said. 



McConnell last week indicated that Democrats were holding up a vote on the bill, noting that there were no objections on the Republican side. 

The House passed its opioid package in June. If the Senate passes its package, the two chambers will have to reconcile the differences before sending it to President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE for his signature.