Anti-opioid bill touted by vulnerable Republicans hits snag

Democrats are demanding that Republicans plow money into legislation to combat drug addiction.

By Burgess Everett and Jennifer Haberkorn

06/30/16 01:03 PM EDT

Republicans looking to pass legislation addressing the nation’s opioid crisis and Zika epidemic before skipping town to campaign for the summer are running into a nettlesome problem: Senate Democrats.

The Senate minority blocked a $1.1 billion Zika funding proposal due to what they called “poison pill” riders earlier this week. And now, as Republicans try to wrap up House and Senate conference negotiations on fighting the spread of heroin and prescription pill addiction, Democrats are demanding that Republicans plow new funding into combating opioids.

“We believe you’ve got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And doing all these changes without funding? Law enforcement needs more funding, treatment needs more funding,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. Republicans “talk about it because they know it’s a real problem but they don’t want to fund it because they know the hard right doesn’t want to fund anything.”

Asked if that could tank the bill in the Senate, where the GOP will need at least six Democratic votes, Schumer replied: “I hope not. But we need funding.”

Democrats’ renewed demands for appropriating new spending, rather than authorizing spending but not actually providing new funds, could have serious political implications for Republicans. A number of Senate Republicans running in tough reelection races have touted their leadership on the opioid legislation; a breakdown in July would negate that selling point.

Still, it may prove difficult for rank-and-file Democrats to vote against a bill cast as a solution for the country’s drug epidemic.

Republicans seemed blindsided by the latest Democratic tactics. A senior Republican aide said the bipartisan, bicameral conference negotiations were close to bearing fruit. On Wednesday evening, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, one of the chief backers of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, said that haggling over money was not going to hold up the bill.

“It’s going to come down to policy differences between the House and Senate version. I’m confident that we can get there,” said Portman, who has already run reelection ads on his work on the opioid legislation. “We’re 95 percent of the way there, I think.”

Anti-addiction advocates who are invested in the bill’s outcome say the only real differences between the bills were add-ons from the House, none of which were controversial. After that, the only difference is over money.

“That’s an issue — more of an issue in the House than it is in the Senate — from the standpoint of making sure things are paid for and there isn’t mandatory funding,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the conferees.

The conferees from the House and Senate are due to meet on the legislation on July 6 at 10 a.m., and Democrats are sharpening their strategy ahead in preparation. Schumer and Reid were set to meet privately with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Thursday. Congress will break for the summer by mid-July and not return until September.

“We’re going to work through a lot of those problems. We’re going to try to come up with something,” Reid said. “We have ways of taking care of this, but of course Republicans have to get it through the crazy House of Representatives.”

Senate Democrats have been cast by Republicans as hypocrites for blocking the $1.1 billion Zika bill this week after clamoring for more funding for months. They voted that bill down on Tuesday over how it was paid for and because it did not include funding for family planning services, after Planned Parenthood urged Democrats to shoot down the bill.

“Democrats are working hard to spin this, but families don’t want excuses, they want action,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. “Senate Democrats listened to the demands of a partisan special interest group and turned their backs on women’s health and fighting Zika.”

Republicans will use a similar argument against Democrats if they vote down the opioid bill, particularly given that not a single Democrat voted against legislation that did not include new spending earlier this year. However, on that same bill, Democrats tried to attach a $600 million supplemental spending package devised by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H. The amendment failed, 48-47, garnering the support of just three Republicans: Portman, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine.

Congress could also drum up new anti-drug funds in spending bills, though those are unlikely to become law until the fall.

White House officials are also siding with Senate Democrats aiming to ratchet up pressure on Republicans to provide more funding, according to a Senate aide, though officials have told anti-addiction advocates they aren’t trying to slow the bill down.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/congress-republicans-opioid-bill-224985#ixzz4NGfEMqxz
Follow us: @politico on Twitter | Politico on Facebook