Congress this week is expected to send President Obama legislation to combat heroin and painkiller abuse, despite lingering disputes over whether there is enough funding to support new treatment and prevention programs.
Senate Democrats have pushed for additional funding arguing that without it the bill will not be able to deliver on its promise to help thwart the opioid epidemic.
But they do not plan to block the agreement that House and Senate negotiators finalized last week, according to a spokesman for Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). It’s unclear how many Democrats will support the bill, but it is expected to easily be approved just in time for the height of the election season.
The House passed the legislation Friday on a 407 to 5 vote. All House Democrats voted for the bill despite decrying its lack of funding.
The bill would create or modify existing education, prevention and treatment programs and put more life-saving anti-overdose drugs in the hands of first responders.
Republicans and Democrats will continue wrangling over whether there should be additional funding later this year when final spending bills are debated.
“We can’t do it on the cheap,” Reid said last week. “And that’s what they’re trying to do.”
Democrats are also expected to make what they see as a lack of funding for the opioid crisis as well as the Zika virus and the water emergency in Flint, Mich., an issue on the campaign trail when lawmakers depart Washington at the end of the week for a seven week break.
For many Republicans in tough re-election contests, Congress cannot pass the opioid bill soon enough.
Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have placed particular emphasis on the legislation in their bids to retain their seats. They have highlighted their work on the issue — Portman was a co-author of the bill, and Ayotte a chief co-sponsor — and their willingness to vote with Democrats for extra funding to show their commitment to fighting an epidemic that has hit their states particularly hard.
“I understand there is an election year and that some people may want to score a few political points,” Portman said in a floor speech Thursday. “This needs to come above politics. We need to get this done and we need to get it done now.”
By supporting the bill, Democrats will effectively be handing a campaign point to some of the very lawmakers, such as Portman, they hope to defeat in November.
But there is consensus around the Capitol that the bill is a first step that lawmakers have to take while they can.
“It’s not perfect and does not nearly do enough from a funding perspective, but it makes some important steps that would allow us to begin to address the opioid addiction crisis that is impacting our nation,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), a lead negotiator on the compromise, said on the House floor Friday.
Republican leaders have pushed back against Democrats’ calls for more funding, noting money authorized to fight opioid abuse is “at record highs.”
“Nobody can come to this floor and credibly claim the House is not putting its money where its mouth is,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who was a leading negotiator on the bill.