After years of bipartisan effort, it looked like Congress was finally ready to approve important legislation on the opioid epidemic. Just a month ago, following extensive wrangling, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) came together in the Senate, which passed the bill on a 94-to-1 vote, delighting stakeholders who were optimistic about the legislation’s chances.
In retrospect, that optimism was premature. As we discussed last month, some House Republicans have decided the Senate bill isn’t far enough to the right – they prefer “an enforcement-first, war-on-drugs approach to the opioid crisis.”
To that end, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) published an op-ed yesterday talking about how great the House’s approach to the epidemic will be, while largely ignoring the bill that passed the Senate overwhelmingly.
As the Huffington Post reported, McCarthy’s piece prompted Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the chief sponsors of the Senate bill, to go to the Senate floor yesterday to condemn the lower chamber’s inaction.
“I hope that the talk of hearings and markups isn’t an excuse to delay action,” Portman said. “Because, let me just say to my friends in the House, respectfully, the Senate has made your job a lot easier. We have already done the hard part.”“We didn’t just say that we had all the right answers,” he continued. “No, we took the time to listen. We conducted three years of fact-finding on this bill. We consulted with experts, with doctors, with law enforcement, with patients in recovery, and with the drug experts in the Obama administration, such as the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. We brought in people from Ohio, my home state, and from all over the country.”
McCarthy’s office responded by saying all of this was perfectly nice, but House Republicans still intend to move forward with their own proposals – which necessarily increases the odds that the GOP-led Congress will end up doing nothing.
At a certain level, the entire legislative dynamic seems hard to believe. Even in divisive times, with partisan rancor running high, when a non-ideological bill is good enough to pass the Senate on a 94-to-1 vote, it ordinarily means the legislation is well on its way to becoming law.
Indeed, shortly after the lopsided Senate vote on CARA, House Democratic leaders announced that they’d be happy to see the bill end up on the suspension calendar – which expedites the passage of uncontroversial bills through two-thirds majorities – in order to get the legislation to President Obama quickly.
But House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he’s committed to allowing House committees to go their own way, and in this case, the relevant panels aren’t satisfied that CARA is conservative enough.
Ryan could bring the Senate bill to the House floor anyway, and it would almost certainly pass, but the Speaker disapproves of this style of leadership. If that means important bills die, so be it.
Given CARA’s significance, it’s terribly frustrating, though it does offer rare political circumstances: usually House and Senate Republicans are furious with the White House, not each other.