- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Republicans shot down Democrats’ efforts Wednesday to add nearly $1 billion in funding to a bill designed to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic, leaving the fate of the measure in doubt as Democrats regroup and decide whether they can live without the quick cash injection.

Democrats tried to meet Republicans halfway by proposing trims to Medicare to free up money, but Republicans said funding already is in the pipeline for next year so there is no need to rush more.

It’s the latest public health crisis to stumble in a debate over spending and the growing federal deficit. A battle already is raging over the Zika virus.

“We need to do something on opioids. It’s a real, real problem,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “But we can’t do it on the cheap, and that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Republican negotiators late Wednesday said they had squared a comprehensive Senate opioid plan with a series of House bills designed to combat the epidemic, yet only GOP members signed the conference report. Democrats said the package should have been coupled with their request for $920 million in additional funding.

The White House said it wants to see the money and hinted at a presidential veto if Republicans refuse.

“If there is a bill that reaches the president’s desk that is geared toward fighting the opioid epidemic but doesn’t include any funding, I certainly cannot promise that the president would sign it. So we’ll see what they do,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Rep. Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican overseeing the talks on opioids, said the deal should be ready for a floor vote on Friday.

It would take only a simple majority in the House, but would likely have to survive a filibuster in the Senate, meaning it would need 60 votes.

The rate of opioid overdose deaths from prescription drugs and heroin hit record levels in 2014, killing nearly 30,000, and polling shows two-thirds of Americans want Congress to do more to address the crisis.

In some places, more people are dying from the epidemic than from automobile accidents.

“There is not a state or a district that isn’t facing this. We’re in this together,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

Both sides say they have the drug addiction policy right, bolstering therapeutic alternatives and expanding access to overdose-reversing medicine in place of incarceration.

Yet Democrats say that’s no good without more money.

Republicans say the opioid money should be approved as part of the annual budget process, so it competes with other needs and lawmakers have to set priorities.

The House Appropriations Committee released a bill Wednesday that provides $581 million to combat opioid addiction in fiscal 2017, or roughly half of the $1.1 billion requested by President Obama.

Democrats said their states cannot wait for lawmakers to finish that package by the fall.

“I don’t want to tell families at home in Oregon and across the country that they ought to wait around for the appropriations process,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, arguing that many addicts are searching for treatment now.

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