- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Republican senators shot down Democrats’ bid to add $600 million in new money to legislation aimed at stopping the heroin and opioid epidemic, with lawmakers saying Wednesday there’s plenty of money already in the pipeline.

While all sides agree on the general outlines of the legislation, money had become a surprise sticking-point, with Democrats insisting those responding to the drug crisis needed an infusion of cash.

But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s amendment fell 12 votes short of the 60 needed to succeed, even though every Democrat on the floor backed it, as did five Republicans.

“How many more people have to die before we are willing to provide the resources that are needed to fight this epidemic?” said Mrs. Shaheen of New Hampshire, as Democrats lined up to chide the 47 Republicans who voted against the measure.

Democrats said the scope of the drug problem, which kills more Americans per year than traffic accidents, demanded Congress find the money. It’s one of several bills that have run into trouble amid Democrats’ demands for more money.

Republican leaders said Congress set aside more than $570 million last year to fund the kinds of anti-drug measures already in the bill, and they said in a time of tight budgets they were reluctant to open the spigot.


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Conservative groups cheered the frugal stand.

“Opioid abuse is a serious problem, but not every problem requires federal intervention or supplemental emergency spending outside of the agreed-upon budget caps,” the lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation said.

The funding dispute had threatened to upend an otherwise bipartisan effort to stem a drug epidemic that is striking every corner of the U.S.

Democrats said they still support the underlying bill, which would help states monitor prescribing practices, expand the number of sites where parents can dispose of unneeded painkillers and distribute more naloxone — a treatment that can reverse the effects of an overdose — to law enforcement agencies and first responders, among other reforms.

Even so, they accused Republicans of paying lip service to crises without paying for real solutions, an election-year attack Democrats have used to needle their rivals’ response to the Zika virus outbreak in Latin America and lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Democrats also questioned how Republicans would stretch money they approved last year to cover the new bill.

“The appropriators would have had to have an astonishing, wizard-like ability to read the future in order to fund, back then, an unpassed bill — indeed, a bill that then didn’t even have a committee hearing scheduled, let alone mark-up and passage and the choice to bring it to the floor,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, who wrote the legislation with Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican.

Mr. Portman and two other Republicans facing tough reelection battles — Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Kirk of Illinois — supported Mrs. Shaheen’s amendment.

“I’ve consistently said I support providing additional resources to help combat the heroin epidemic, resources above and beyond the additional money provided in the omnibus law that has not been spent yet and are available to fund [the bill] this fiscal year,” Mr. Portman said.

Lawmakers from both parties have sounded the alarm over the proliferation of opioid painkillers and heroin, which affect the body in similar ways and are causing frequent overdoses.

Four out of five new heroin uses got hooked by abusing prescription drugs first, according to the White House, which this week echoed Democrats’ calls for more funding.

The Senate passed an amendment by Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican facing reelection, that would force Medicare beneficiaries who go “doctor-shopping” for painkillers to use just one prescriber and one pharmacy.

Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, already uses the program.

Senators also unanimously approved a measure by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, that bolsters the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute international drug traffickers and manufacturers who know their chemicals will be used to make illicit drugs.

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