Politics

Republicans Kill $600 Million In Emergency Funds To Fight Opioid Crisis

Shaheen offered the amendment to approve emergency money to help battle heroin scourge. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate has rejected an amendment that would have added $600 million in emergency money to a measure designed to combat the nation’s heroin and opioid-addiction epidemic.  

"I'm disappointed -- not surprised, but disappointed," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who offered the amendment, said on the floor after the vote on Wednesday. She asked her Republican colleagues who voted against her measure, "How many more people have to die before we're willing to provide the resources necessary to fight this epidemic?"  

The Senate voted 48-47, for the amendment, failing to reach the 60-vote threshold required for passage. Five Republicans -- Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois -- crossed the aisle to support the proposal.  

"This bill has no funding right now," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said after the vote.  

Republicans have argued that money to fight drug addiction was included in the spending bill approved at the end of last year and more can be added during the appropriations process later this year.  

The main bill, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, is a bipartisan piece of legislation introduced by Whitehouse and Portman that would authorize the Justice Department to issue grants to assist with state efforts to combat drug abuse, such as prescription drug monitoring programs. It would also increase access to drugs that can counteract the effects of an overdose.  

On Tuesday, Portman and Ayotte, both vulnerable GOP incumbents whose states have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, voiced support for Shaheen's amendment. The measure would have bolstered funding for the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human services, to support law enforcement, research and prevention programs.  

"If we support making the changes to the law that are included in the CARA bill, we should also support providing emergency funding to those same programs," Shaheen said on the floor shortly before the vote.  

Democrats have expressed frustration that the bill wouldn’t amount to much if it didn’t include new funding. Republicans in recent days have countered that there was $400 million in the fiscal 2016 year-end spending bill designated for combating opioid abuse. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the new funding should be addressed during this year’s appropriations process.  

"These funds are still available, and we will have more opportunities to address funding through the appropriations process this spring," McConnell said on the floor.  

Whitehouse shot back at the Republican arguments that funding from fiscal 2016 could be used once his legislation is passed. In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, he said that the money appropriated at the end of last year was not sent to the accounts that the new bill would authorize spending within.  

“Appropriators would have had to have an astonishing, wizard-like ability to read the future in order to fund back then an un-passed bill,” he said.  

In a statement, the White House has echoed Democratic concern that CARA did not include the necessary funding to support the programs in the bill. But Whitehouse said Democrats would not block CARA from passing if it did not include the additional funds.  

"I do not intend, nor do I know anyone who intends, to block the passage of CARA over funding,” Whitehouse said.  

Shaheen vowed that she will continue to push for her emergency funding to combat the opioid crisis.  

"This is going to come back," Shaheen said on the floor. "I am not going to quit on those families in New Hampshire that need help."  

The Senate bill is S 524.  

An earlier version of this story failed to note that Illinois Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk voted for the emergency funding. Andrew Siddons contributed to this report.    

Related: Opioid Bill Clears First Senate Hurdle