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Sheldon W.
Democrat RI

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  • Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Bill

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

    Posted on 2016-03-10

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    WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I am delighted to join Senator Casey of Pennsylvania and Senator Brown of Ohio on the floor this morning to applaud what appears to be the imminent passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. So far we have had less than a handful of votes against this bill at any stage through the voting on it, and I suspect that some of those votes may have had to do with amendments and so forth. We might even do better than that on final passage.

    I thank my cosponsors. This was not a bill that was just dreamed up in back offices. We had five national seminars in Washington, bringing people in from all around the country to share their experiences, to share their advice, to share their best practices, and to inform the development of this bill. It has been years of work in the making.

    On our side of the aisle, Senator Klobuchar has been an extremely valuable colleague. On the other side of the aisle, Senator Portman and Senator Ayotte were our coconspirators on this bill. I thank them and extend my appreciation to all of them.

    This truly is a comprehensive bill: everything from at the point of overdose getting naloxone into the hands of first responders so that lives can be saved; through the prescribing process and the prescription drug monitoring process; through a whole variety of new treatment programs; and through intervention for people who are incarcerated and the prevention of incarceration, particularly for our people in veterans courts and so forth, who can be diverted out of the prison system through new means of treatment such as medically assisted treatment that is emerging as a very promising new strategy; and all the way, ultimately, to disposal of excess drugs. This truly is a comprehensive bill.

    Its only faults are ones that the Republican leadership are in a terrific position to remedy, if they would.

    The first is that there is no additional funding to support any of these new programs that I have described. The funding for the accounts in question was determined months and months and months ago in the Appropriations Committee before anybody could know what this bill was going to look like on the floor.

    When the final deal was reached, the numbers actually matched the President's budget, and the President's budget was issued even before the appropriations measure came out of its relevant subcommittee. So the President's budget folks would have had to have been astonishing masters of prediction in order to put in money for programs that weren't even law at that time.

    There has been considerable commentary from the other side that there is funding for this, but what they overlook is that, yes, there is funding for these programs, but you would have to take it away from other treatment and recovery programs to fund these. It would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    Now, an argument could be made that under this bill, Paul will be a more effective program than the pre-CARA Peter would have been, and, therefore, robbing Peter to pay Paul is a net good. But, please, let's not pretend there is money for this.

    If there is one indication of how there really isn't new money for this, it is the fact that our friends on the other side can't agree on how much money there is for this. Some Senators have said that there is $78 million for funding CARA. The majority leader has said there is $400 million to fund CARA. The deputy majority leader has said there is $517 million to fund CARA. If the money were real, I suspect they could agree on the amount of it. I think the fact of the matter is that there is no new money for this, and the sooner we can get this funded, the sooner it will save lives.

    The second problem is that the House, under Republican leadership, has taken no action on this bill. No committee has taken it up and passed it. So I take this opportunity to call on the leadership here and in the House to put money where their proverbial mouth is to pass this bill, to get some funding behind it--Senator Shaheen's measure would have been terrific--and to get some action out of their colleagues in the House. If we pass it in the Senate and the House takes no action, this will be a sham, and that will have been a shame.

    With that, I yield the floor for Senator Brown.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Ohio.

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