Opioid crisis unites Democrats and GOP in call to action.
Extreme partisanship is rampant on Capitol Hill, but a glimmer of hope for cooperation is emerging from a dark place — the prescription painkiller and heroin crisis that’s ravaging the country.
It’s an issue where all sides have said they want to act, though getting agreement hasn’t always been smooth.
Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who has taken the lead on the issue, was only able to get five fellow Republicans last year to sign onto his bill to root out synthetic opioids pouring into the U.S. through postal packages from China. This year, he’s already gotten several Democrats to join him.
The most recent co-sponsors from either party — Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican who is staunchly pro-life and anti-gun control, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat and hero to the progressive left — highlight the political breadth of the problem and eagerness to deal with it.
Another bill, the Stop OD Act of 2017, would authorize grants to highlight the dangers of opioids and expand the use of overdose-reversing drugs. It has more than 20 House co-sponsors, scattered from Hawaii to New Hampshire, and roughly split between Republicans and Democrats.
“Drug abuse is a problem that afflicts many parts of the country and therefore is something that unites red and blue state legislators. If members can address that issue, it offers some hope of progress in other areas as well,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
The prescription drug and heroin epidemic stands out because it is affecting Americans of all ages with little regard for race, income or other social factors. The crisis resulted in more than 30,000 overdose deaths in 2015 alone.
The epidemic’s wide reach prompted Congress to pass bipartisan legislation last year — the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act — that bolstered treatment and the availability of overdose-reversing drugs.
But Congress struggled to pony up funds. After months of feuding, lawmakers agreed to dedicate $500 million per year for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. It passed just weeks after the contentious November election, giving lawmakers hope that bipartisanship is still possible.
With President Trump calling for belt-tightening in domestic spending, members of Congress are warning the administration not to fiddle with the funding.
Democrats said efforts to repeal Obamacare and proposed spending cuts in Mr. Trump’s budget for the National Institutes of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were particularly troubling.
“During the campaign I was pleased to hear President Trump talk about the need to address [the epidemic]. It’s been disappointing to see him try and take away health care,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, noting Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid had been a vital conduit to treatment for addicts in her state.
For now, lawmakers are reaching for common ground wherever they can find it.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, reached out to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, after Mr. Trump tapped him to lead the national fight against opioid addiction, saying “we need all hands on deck, including administration officials” to thwart the epidemic.
“I hope we can take some lessons from this. It is a public health crisis in all of our states in every community, rural and urban,” Ms. McCaskill said Friday.
Ms. McCaskill made her comments to a reporter just moments after she’d cast a vote against Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch.
That court fight — which saw Democrats mount the first ever partisan filibuster of a high court nominee and the GOP trigger the “nuclear option” to change the rules and curtail the use of the filibuster — threatened to send the Senate to new lows of bipartisanship.
But Mr. Portman said even in the midst of that, bipartisanship is alive and well.
“Literally during the vote, two Democrats came over, and we talked about other legislation,” he said Friday. “We’re going to continue to work together across party lines. We have to. That’s our job, and we have lots to do.”
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, has seen increased support among Democrats for his bill to root out synthetic opioids pouring into the U.S. through postal packages from China.