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Democrats Want Emergency Cash to Fight Opioid Abuse

Shaheen, left, and Schumer, right, are seeking emergency funds to tackle opioid addiction. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats are planning to fight for emergency funding to tackle opioid addiction as the Senate prepares to turn to the issue after the Presidents Day recess.  

That would turn a broadly bipartisan bill championed on the GOP side by a pair of vulnerable incumbents — Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio — into a venue to debate new appropriations, not just an authorization of federal dollars for grants to combat heroin and painkiller abuse.  

"It's a very good bill. We have an opioid epidemic, but I want to make a point here: We have to walk the walk, not talk the talk," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber, at a Thursday morning as the Judiciary Committee approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. "To just authorize money and not actually put money to spend will do nothing to resolve the crisis, and this is becoming something that we see as a pattern.  

"We talk about Flint? There's no money for Flint as of this point. We talk about mental illness, there's no money for mental illness. We talk even about security of this country, there's not the money that we need."  

Schumer's called an early afternoon news conference with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and several other Democrats to push a $600 million emergency supplemental spending bill.  

Portman called the debate over the emergency money, which could perhaps be floated without belt-tightening elsewhere, a political maneuver  

"Yeah, we should put money behind it, no one disagrees with that," he said. "Sounds like they're playing politics with it to me, which we can't do. We've got to get this done."  

"We just got it passed, huge bipartisan margins in the Judiciary Committee, it was unanimous, which I'm really excited about. And the legislation will be really helpful to people who are suffering from addiction," Portman told reporters. "We're going to have the funding to support it. I'm convinced of it. We already got funding at the end of the year in the omnibus. I just testified on the funding in the president's budget, talked about how I was supporting what the president was doing."  

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel, said he backed the bill, known as Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act..  

"I think Sens. Ayotte and Portman have done a really terrific job, and I ... want to support their efforts, not interfere with them," he said. Alexander, a senior appropriator, dismissed talk of tying the measure to a supplemental.  

"Sen. Schumer is a very able senator, and he knows the difference between authorizing and funding. We have an authorizing procedure which we'll deal with, and then the Appropriations Committee will deal with how much money we have," Alexander told Roll Call. "That's the regular order and I'm sure if he were the majority leader, that's the way he'd want it to work."  

The top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee said that emergency request for opioid abuse is just one of several requests the panel is reviewing. The Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, for instance, held a hearing Thursday on an administration request for $1.8 billion to fight the Zika virus.  

"I'm taking a look at that, because we've got a couple of supplementals floating around now," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said. "I can certainly sympathize with Sen. Shaheen's sense of urgency. We have it in our own state. We're looking at what's the best way to do this."  

Speaking at the same Judiciary meeting as Schumer, Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had provisions they would like to add to the opioid legislation, in an ideal world.  

"I realize there's only so much weight an individual piece of legislation can bear, because I'd like to see other things perhaps added to a moving vehicle, but I think it's more important to accomplish what we can, and when we can, rather than to try and load it down and sink it," Cornyn said.  

Contact Lesniewski at nielslesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @nielslesniewski.

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