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Congress Seeks Common Ground

If we were to compare Congress to formations on this Earth it would be an archipelago, or a group of islands, as the 535 members continue to stand apart from one another. With little common ground to be found, work on the federal appropriations process is moving at a glacial pace. The House goes into recess next week, and will have only a handful of days when they return to session on May 10th before the May 15th deadline, the date after which it can legally consider appropriations bills on the House floor absent a budget resolution.

Federal Appropriations and Zika Funding

Republican members of the House Budget Committee searched for options to pass a fiscal 2017 budget resolution in a closed meeting Wednesday, but they appear no closer to getting the votes needed to pass the resolution on the floor. Like their Senate counterparts, House members remain at an impasse on addressing the Zika virus. With the May 15th appropriations start date looming, the House Appropriations Committee made little effort to move the needle on passing funding bills.

On the Senate side, members fought over the Energy and Water Bill amid growing pressure to attach Zika virus funding to that measure. With no trust between the Majority and Minority members of the committee, a deal may prove elusive. Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) is skeptical of the $1.9 billion dollar request from the President, supported by Senate Democrats, and instead favors a $1.1 billion proposal developed by Senate Republicans, “rather than try to advance a stand-alone Zika bill as requested by the White House.”

Addressing the Opioid Epidemic

This past week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee met several times to mark up bills passed through the Health Subcommittee the week before. Most of the bills sailed out of committee with minimal changes, but one bill in particular: H.R. 4981 (“Opioid Use Disorder Treatment Expansion and Modernization Act”) faced a series of amendments by committee Democrats, all of which (1, 2, 3) were voted down along party lines. These included amendments to raise the patient limit for physicians prescribing buprenorphine—a medication to treat opiate addiction—to better match the Senate’s version of the bill, as well as to provide $1 billion in additional funding to enact its provisions. While these amendments—and the debate around them—did not stop the bill from being approved by Energy and Commerce, it may bode ill for the upcoming floor vote as tensions between Democrats and Republicans around additional appropriations bubbles to the surface.

Potential conflict areas also include significant differences between the broadening House legislative package and CARA (“The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act”) which passed the Senate with overwhelming support (94 Yes / 1 No), including the lack of provisions to establish grant programs under the Department of Health and Human Services to expand community based recovery services.

These schisms between Democratic and Republican lawmakers could make it difficult to fulfill President Obama’s hope of “surprising the cynics again” with bi-partisan substance use legislation and funding to address to Zika virus. AIDS United will continue to monitor progress on the federal appropriations process as well as attempts to address the opioid epidemic. For questions, please reach out to Director of Government Affairs, Carl Baloney at [email protected]

Posted By: AIDS United Policy Department - Friday, April 29, 2016

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