- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2016

By Friday the House will have passed 18 bills to stake out a bigger federal role in fighting the nationwide opioid epidemic — but as with so much else in Congress these days, the effort is turning into a spat over money.

Republican leaders say the slate of bipartisan bills demonstrate the House is taking the deadly crisis seriously, changing federal policies to increase doctors’ ability to prescribe naloxone and forming an interagency task force to streamline responses.

Democrats say the bills are fine, but say the only way to make a real difference is to pony up more cash.

“It’s conversational, but it’s not effective without the resources. The Republicans are refusing to provide the emergency funding that is needed to make a real difference in American communities facing the opioid tragedy,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said.

From opioids to the Zika virus to the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Congress faces a thorny, election-year challenge in determining how much more money taxpayers should be asked to shell out.

Conservatives leaders say the federal government is already spending too much, so it should find a way to cut elsewhere if it’s going to take on new responsibilities.

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Democrats, though, say all of the needs have popped up since Congress agreed to spending caps in late 2015, so the new money should be considered an emergency that gets tacked onto the deficit, rather than having to compete for funding with existing programs.

Mrs. Pelosi also warned against shortchanging the needs. She rejected the $1.1 billion anti-Zika package emerging in the Senate, saying it was “completely inadequate” given Mr. Obama requested $1.9 billion.

“That’s not half a loaf, that’s half a shoe — you can’t get there from here,” she said.

Republican leaders are open to some new spending on Zika, but they’ve rejected a Democratic bid to throw $600 million in emergency spending at the opioids problem.

They say the opioid money should compete with other programs as part of the annual appropriations process that will unfold in the coming weeks.

“Not everything is important as this. Actually, very few things are,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and leading appropriator. “Once you get your allocation, you look through what you think is less important, and try to shift money into this area.”

Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, said “fighting the opioid epidemic is a top priority for the chairman, and the committee is looking for ways to help in the fight through the appropriations process this year.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rate of opioid overdose deaths from prescription drugs and heroin hit record levels in 2014, killing nearly 30,000. It’s an epidemic that’s reached every corner of the country and affecting Americans regardless of race, gender or income.

“We have got more of our fellow citizens dying from drug overdoses every year than they do in car accidents,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said.

The House voted, 413-5, on Thursday to approve a bill from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, that allows the Justice Department to dole out federal funds to states so they can attack the epidemic as they see fit.

Another bill by Rep. Bob Dold, Illinois Republican, creates a state grant program to increase access to naloxone, an opioid overdose reversing drug.

Previously this week, the chamber approved bills that establish an interagency task force to scrutinize pain management and prescribing practices and to require the government to assist children born with withdrawal symptoms, because their mothers abused opioids, through education materials.

The House bills will have to be squared with a version that already passed the Senate.

As it stands, two thirds of Americans think the federal government isn’t doing enough to combat prescription opioid addiction, and 62 percent say it could do more to combat heroin use, according to recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation.



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