Dems rally in support of $100B for opioids fight: ‘Talk is cheap’

April 26, 2018 GMT

Prominent Democrats rallied with advocates Thursday to push legislation that would spend $100 billion on the opioids epidemic over 10 years, saying “talk is cheap” and that Capitol Hill efforts to date don’t match the extent of the crisis.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, who lives in Baltimore, said he sponsored the CARE Act with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts because far too many people in his own neighborhood are suffering and dying from the scourge.

Congress recently approved nearly $5 billion to fight addiction as part of a major spending package, but Democrats say the GOP-led body is still “nibbling around the edges” of a scourge that is starting to kill more people per year than the HIV/AIDS epidemic did at its height.

They’re ramping up their attacks on GOP-led efforts alongside President Trump, saying they want long-term, sustained funding.

“I get tired of people shuckin’ and jivin’ the American people while they die,” Mr. Cummings said. “We took a look at this problem and said, ‘No more shuckin’ and jivin’.”

The CARE Act would set aside $4 billion per year for states, territories and tribal governments, with hard-hit states getting half of the money. The rest of the funding goes toward local communities with high overdose rates, research into better treatments and the expanded use of naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said the legislation is modeled after the Ryan White AIDS legislation named for a teenager who became the face of that epidemic in the 1980s.

Federal action was lacking at the time, the senator said, because lawmakers decided AIDS was “someone else’s problem, it was not people Congress was willing to invest in,” until White shared his story.

“The time to act is now. Are you with me on this?” she said, drawing cheers from advocates.

Republicans in Washington insist they are taking the crisis seriously, pointing to a record amount of funding dedicated so far and a slew of bipartisan bills that are making their way through Congress.

The Senate Health Committee advanced opioids legislation containing over 40 measures on Tuesday, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up dozens of measures on Wednesday.

Full Committee Chairman Greg Walden wants to pass opioid measures in the House by Memorial Day.

Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, said he worried the committee was moving too fast, opening a new line of criticism.

He said the sheer number of bills 63 in all suggested the heath subcommittee was putting quantity over quality. Some of the bills were in draft form or didn’t include details on how they’d be funded, he noted.

“We can all agree that action must be taken to stymie the opioid overdose deaths ravaging our country. But taking the wrong action, because we are not spending the appropriate amount of time to get these policies right could have the very serious consequence of making things far worse,” he said.

Mr. Walden said the legislation was well-considered and based on testimony from a series of hearings.

He said Democrats would be more eager to act if more of them had attended a committee session last week with parents of victims of the opioids crisis.

“It is our job to move forward,” said Mr. Walden, Oregon Republican. “It is time for us to act, not to drag our feet and delay.”