Playing Politics : Chairman John Kline and Opioid Legislation

In January 2014, the question was posed : Will Sex-trafficking Save the GOP ?
The inference was that the DoNothing House needed something to show they were not part of the DoNothing Congress … and sure enough, when the elections rolled around there was John Kline and Erik Paulsen prominently using the sex-trafficking issue in their re-elections campaigns … never mentioning that the legislation was also supported by Democrats. The strategy was successful and in May 2015, press releases were being issued of legislation being passed and scheduled to be signed by the President.

Fast forward to 2016 … with the House over a week late in satisfying their statutory requirements to pass the FY2017 budget, the Trump-Cruz nomination contest dominating the news, and with at least 19 Republicans deciding not to seek re-election, they gotta show that House Republicans have a future … a future agenda that needs an issue to run on.

An issue that doesn’t carry a religious, sexual, or political affiliation … something that impacts all families regardless of income level … something that the media can talk about … and Republicans can support.

OK … that rules out wage inequality, climate change, and gun regulations … leaving one big one.

Thus the question : Will Opioid Overdoses Save the GOP ?

Nationally, the media has been all over this issue reporting that over 14,000 Americans died in 2014 from misuse and abuse of prescription opioid and MPR reports the Minnesota situtation.

So should Congress act ?

YES, said the Senate … by a vote of 94-1 they passed S. 524 Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). The Senate took its time … debated and amended the bill until it was agreeable to virtually everyone.

The companion bill H.R. 953 has 126 bipartisan sponsors and has sat waiting committee action for almost one year (it was assigned on April 29, 2015).
The committee … the House Education and the Workforce Committee … with Chairman John Kline (R-MN-02) controlling the gavel.

Republican Senator Rob Portman went on the Chamber floor to address the problem … House Republicans.

“let’s give CARA a vote. 125 cosponsors is the latest numbers I have as of this number. That number keeps growing.

“It’s bipartisan, bicameral. It’s the right thing to do. Again, I know there are other ideas out there and that’s fine. We need to take those up as well. But let’s go ahead and get this passed. Put it under suspension, take it to the floor. It will pass.
We’re one vote away from having this help our communities.
CARA is not just comprehensive. It does the right thing in terms of focusing on what is evidence-based. In other words, we didn’t just say let’s throw more money at this problem. We said let’s actually find out what’s working and what’s not working.

“Meanwhile, we know that this legislation will help. We know that if it’s sitting on a desk in the House of Representatives having passed here by a 94-1 vote, it’s not going to help. But we know that if it can get off that desk and on to the floor for a vote, we’re one vote away from getting this to our communities to begin to help, to keep people from making the wrong decision, but then if they get into a drug addiction, to help them be able to turn their lives around and to achieve their potential in life, their God-given potential. That’s what this argument is about. It is not about the fact that the senate has all the answers. By the way, we wrote this legislation with the House. They were engaged from the start. We introduced identical bills.

“They have 125 cosponsors. All we’re saying is let’s let this one piece of legislation go. Let’s allow it to begin to help right away. And then let’s continue to work on other ideas. Again, we’ve lost nearly 5,000 Americans to drug overdoses sings the senate passed CARA with a 94-1 vote. To begin to reverse this tide, this trend of addiction, of overdoses, we can and should act now. It’s urgent. There is a crisis. There’s no time to waste.”

Hmmm … “We’re one vote away from having this help our communities.”
A powerful statement … and who has been assigned that bill and controls the gavel ?

Why no action ?
Well, the reason may be needing an issue to run on this fall … as the Washington Post reported (highlights below):

“Since we passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA as it’s called in the Senate, on March 10, 42 days have passed. That’s more than a month. Every day we lose about 120 Americans — 120 Americans — to drug overdoses. That means in these 42 days we have lost over 5,000 fellow American citizens to drug overdoses. Think about that. So I do urge the House to act and act quickly. These numbers keep getting higher and higher. This is not getting better.”

Portman and his colleagues point to the bipartisan support as the best argument for capitalizing on the moment for Congress to address the national opioid epidemic. But Portman questions whether House members speaking of urgency in their public comments are really committed to putting politics aside and getting a bill done.

They fear the House may be foot-dragging on bipartisan Senate legislation in order to let members take a turn in the spotlight on a widely popular issue. But in the process, they worry, the House’s decision to start from scratch instead of picking up the popular Senate bill may upset a near-perfect opportunity to get something done.

John Kline is retiring … his legacy will be marked by his actions and inactions.

Yep, John Kline will not be on the ballot … but Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer and other Republicans will … so if they mention the need to address the Opiod problem, ask them why they didn’t push Chairman Kline to act.

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