Saturday, July 28, 2018

Washington Post says unnamed 'insiders' think McConnell is playing politics with opioid bill; his spokesman says he is not

Mitch McConnell and other leaders of the Senate's Republican
majority (Associated Press photo by Jacquelyn Martin)
Unnamed "industry insiders in the health-care sector . . . believe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could delay a vote on legislation tackling the opioid crisis because passage would give vulnerable red-state Democrats an accomplishment to campaign on back home," The Washington Post reports.

"McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, pushed back on the assertion that anyone wants to delay a vote on tackling the opioid crisis until after the election," Colby Itkowitz reports, quoting him: "This is obviously a priority for the leader and he's encouraged his chairmen to come to an agreement quickly and I predict they will."

Four Senate committees have reported bills, similar to a massive package the House passed in June. The bills are similar: expanding prevention and treatment, and cracking down on distribution. "But the political imperatives diverge in a year when House Republicans are fighting to maintain their majority -- see the number of vulnerable House GOPers who have sponsored opioid legislation -- and Senate Republicans are trying to pick off Democrats," such as Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire MacCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Itkowitz notes "The vulnerable incumbents are almost all Democrats, many from states hit hardest by the opioid problem." Kentucky is among them.

The unnamed sources who say McConnell may be slow-walking the bill suspect he doesn't want "those senators going back to their states, which are ravaged by abuse of prescription painkillers, and tell their constituents they worked across the aisle to get something done," Itkowitz reports. "Those who are following the issue closely don't feel there's a true sense of urgency to get an opioid bill to the Senate floor sometime soon, let alone before the election."

Itkowitz reports she heard a less cynical view from Jessica Hulsey Nickel, founder and CEO of Addiction Policy Forum, who "believes a delay until after the election is actually an attempt to save the opioid bills from getting muddied by politics." Nickel said, “It feels like they’ve been trying to plot this out to be a little less partisan and not fall in a single pothole along the way. To rush it or make it one party’s versus the other's, would go against the spirit of how this was constructed."

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