The House on Friday passed legislation to combat heroin and painkiller abuse, setting up potentially tense negotiations with the Senate on an issue lawmakers are eager to show voters they can address ahead of November’s election.
The country’s worsening opioid abuse crisis captured the attention of politicians across the political spectrum this year, kicking into high-gear a congressional effort to tackle the epidemic through grants to local governments focused on improving education, treatment and recovery programs aimed at helping addicts and preventing those at risk from becoming addicts.
The stakes have been particularly high for a handful of vulnerable Republicans facing difficult reelection battles in places like Ohio, New Hampshire, New York and Illinois where the opioid crisis is particularly acute.
There have been tensions between some House and Senate Republicans over how each chamber has been addressing the issue.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), co-author of the opioid bill the Senate passed two months ago, has been particularly critical about the House approach, which took longer and was more wide-ranging than the Senate bill. The legislative package the House passed on Friday was comprised of 18 bills.
“While I remain concerned that the House approach is not truly comprehensive I am hopeful we can resolve our differences rather quickly,” Portman said in a statement Friday.
Senators and advocates have expressed concerns that the grant rules in the House’s package will not guarantee that state and local governments address all aspects of the opioid crisis.
But the House maintains that their broader slate of bills, pulled together through a bipartisan task force jointly led by Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), who also faces an uphill reelection battle, was the better approach.
“This unique problem requires a comprehensive coalition, and a multipronged solution,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who has campaigned for opioid legislation for several years. “There is no silver bullet.”
Each of the bills in the House package passed with bipartisan support, and members supported the final package on a near unanimous 400 to 5 vote.
With such overwhelming support, the chances of striking a compromise are high. But the opioid debate is unlikely to end once lawmakers produce a mutually agreeable bill.
Neither the House nor the Senate bill provides additional funding to address the crisis through the new grant programs they would create. Democrats, including President Obama, insist that without extra funding, the measures are insufficient. Democrats are already taking that complaint to the campaign trail.