“NO” on Shaheen Amendment for $600 million in Emergency Spending

On Wednesday, the Senate will likely vote on Amendment #3345 offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) 2% to S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016. The amendment would provide $600 million in new emergency spending for the purpose of addressing opioid abuse.

Opioid abuse is a serious problem, but not every problem requires federal intervention or supplemental emergency spending outside of the agreed-upon budget caps. Under the current caps in place under the Budget Control Act (BCA) and subsequent Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA), Congress has $519 billion in FY17 to spend on domestic discretionary programs. If Congress determines that addressing opioid abuse is a federal budget priority, it should find funding within the budget caps to provide for it.

The appropriations process takes place annually, and it is during this process, and under the budget restraints placed upon it, during which these decisions should be made. In fact, in the last appropriations bill, enacted less than 3 months ago, Congress provided $400 million specifically to address opioid abuse, which itself was a 30% increase from the previous year’s funding.

According to reports, those funds have yet to even be spent. Even if the Shaheen amendment were to pass, it is questionable whether the money would even be spent before the deadline for the next appropriations bill six months from now.

The 1985 Budget Act (BBEDCA) describes emergency situations as needing to be both “sudden” and “temporary.” The opioid epidemic arguably does not meet either definition. However, even in truly immediate emergency situations, Congress could provide funding without the “emergency” designation, requiring either spending reductions elsewhere during the year or a proportional sequester at the end of the year. It could also enact direct spending that fully offset any new spending in real time. But demanding that Congress provide $600 million in emergency funding outside of the budget caps to address opioid abuse is either fiscally unserious, cynical political opportunism, or both.

If raised, senators should vote to uphold a budget point (i.e., “NO” on a motion to waive the budget point of order) or in favor of any other procedural motion to kill the $600 million Shaheen amendment.

Heritage Action opposes the Shaheen Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.