Ohio gets $26 million to fight opioids

Published: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 6:31 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 6:40 PM

Ohio gets $26 million to fight opioids

The state will receive $26 million to fight heroin and prescription drugs, part of a pot of $485 million in grants that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is offering to battle the drug epidemic.

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According to Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services, the money will be used over the next two years for medication-assisted treatment, prevention, screening, recovery supports and addressing secondary trauma among first responders, including law enforcement and emergency medical technicians.

The money comes from the 21st Century Cures act, a law enacted in December 2016 that will provide $1 billion over two years to fight the heroin and prescription drug epidemic. Sen. Rob Portman fought for opioid funding to be included in the bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also supported the bill, but protested when the distribution of federal dollars was slow to go out. Brown and other Democratic colleagues sent a letter to President Donald Trump earlier this month calling for the money to be released.

RELATED: Coroner investigates 145 suspected overdose deaths in month

Portman called the money “good news for Ohio.” He visited treatment and recovery facilities in Eaton and Massillon. “This legislation is now starting to benefit our state,” he said.

Brown said, “Ohio communities have long been asking for help to combat the opioid crisis, so I’m glad to see the resources we secured last year have finally been announced and will soon help individuals and families get the treatment they need.”

The Democrat also argued that repealing the 2010 health-care law known as Obamacare would also harm recovering addicts who rely on the Medicaid expansion for their addiction treatment.

GOP Senators echo Trump in focus on Obama over Russian election interference

Published: Wednesday, June 28, 2017 @ 6:19 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 28, 2017 @ 6:20 PM

Trying to turn the focus more to the actions of the Obama Administration in 2016, several Republican Senators joined President Donald Trump in criticizing President Obama’s reaction to Russian meddling in last year’s elections, saying at a hearing that the former President didn’t do enough to raise alarms about Moscow’s efforts.

“He stood idly by – as we heard today – in the 2016 election,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) during a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“The Obama Administration did not take the significant actions that were needed,” added Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID). “You know, he was aware that this was going on.”

The comments from GOP Senators came after a series of tweets in recent days by the President, where Mr. Trump publicly acknowledged that there had been meddling by the Russians, as he pointed the finger of blame squarely at the former President for allowing it.

The hearing represented the most direct criticism that President Obama has received in Congress on the matter.

“I would call it behind the scenes, ineffective and tardy,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

“It wasn’t really until after the elections that sanctions were imposed,” Collins added.

But at the same hearing, President Trump’s dealings with Moscow did not escape notice, as a key witness bemoaned the current administration’s lack of focus on Russian meddling.

“The Obama Administration should have taken greater action, but the more pertinent question today is what our current President is not doing,” said Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official who served in key posts for Presidents of both parties.

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Burns said it was dismaying that “President Trump continues to deny the undeniable fact that Russia launched a major cyber attack against the United States.”

Burns, who was a Russian expert for the first President Bush, and a NATO official for the second Bush Administration, did not spare the Obama Administration either.

“We should have had a more immediate response that was painful to the Russians,” Burns said.

“I think that President Obama – with hindsight – should have acted more resolutely,” Burns added.

In an extended exchange, Sen. Risch tried to get Burns to lay the blame for election interference squarely on President Obama.

“Who was President of the United States when that occurred?” Risch asked.

“That was President Obama – as you know,” Burns said with a note of disdain in his voice, as he circled back at times to raise questions about why President Trump has said so little about Russian interference.

“President Trump has refused to launch an investigation of his own,” Burns said. “He’s not made this an issue in our relations with the Russians.”

Trump pushes GOP to solve health care overhaul riddle

Published: Wednesday, June 28, 2017 @ 12:50 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 28, 2017 @ 12:51 PM

A day after Republican leaders unexpectedly delayed action on a Senate health care bill, President Donald Trump pressed GOP Senators to get on board with the legislative effort, arguing that it’s time to on from the Obama health law.

“Obamacare is dying, it’s essentially dead,” the President said in a photo op at the White House.

“It’s been a headache for everybody, it’s been a nightmare for many,” the President added, as he made clear his desire for the GOP to reach an agreement that can get 50 votes in the Senate.

In his remarks, Mr. Trump sounded optimistic notes about getting Republicans to back a health care bill, saying several times that he had a good meeting on Tuesday with GOP Senators.

“We’re working very hard, we’ve given ourselves a little more time to make it perfect,” the President said.

But in the halls of Congress, there was no sense that the GOP was on the verge of a health care breakthrough, as Republicans staked out different points of view on what should change.

In a letter to the President, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) set out four different changes to the legislation, again expressing his opposition to a new regime of tax credits that would be used to help people pay for health insurance.

Paul also frowned on a late change in the bill, which would say that if you go more than nine weeks without health insurance, then insurance companies could force you to wait 6 months before letting you buy an insurance plan.

Paul said that appears to be nothing more than a “Republican version of the individual mandate,” the Obama Administration plan that forced people to buy health insurance, under the threat of a tax penalty if they did not.

Republicans are expected to go home tomorrow. Congress is not in session next week. Lawmakers would return to Washigton the week of July 10.

Senate Republicans scramble to save GOP health care bill

Published: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 11:58 PM
Updated: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 11:59 PM

In a surprise to many in his own party, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday postponed plans for a vote this week on a GOP health care bill, as internal divisions among Republicans burst into the open on the best way to overhaul the Obama health law, delaying any vote until next month at the earlies.

Here is what’s next on the health care front:

1. No vote until after the July Fourth break. The plan from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was to have a final vote on a GOP health bill by this Friday at the latest. Instead, the new plan is to come up with some deals and secure the 50 votes needed for passage in July. “I think this is a good decision,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who expressed optimism that a vote could take place the week of July 10. “We’re so close,” Perdue added. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is Congress only feels the pressure to act right before a vacation break – and that happens July 28.

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2. Some not so subtle GOP messages. One thing that was striking were the statements issued by several GOP Senators – after the vote had been delayed – as several Republicans waited to publicly pronounce their opposition and concerns. For Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), it was the level of Medicaid spending. Maybe the biggest surprise was a tweet from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) – who wasn’t on anyone’s radar – that he was opposed to the bill as it currently stands. To me, that’s a canary in the coal mine for broader GOP concerns about their health care bill.

3. Some Republicans sounding some odd notes. Along with the statement from Sen. Moran, another post-delay item deserves a note, from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). “The first draft of the bill included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the affluent,” Lee said in a statement, which sounded more like something that a Democratic Senator might say, rather than a very conservative Republican.

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4. Who can McConnell peel off on health care? While various GOP Senators said they opposed the Republican health plan, they also included the caveat that they don’t like the way it is right now. Things could change in coming days and weeks in order to get someone to vote “Yes.” But for Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), his message in a telephone town hall to voters back in the Silver State on Tuesday night was that he doesn’t expect major changes in how the GOP bill would deal with the Medicaid program. “I do not believe that Ronald Reagan would have supported this health care bill,” Heller said. I’ll put him down as a “No” for right now.

5. But don’t declare the bill dead just yet. Remember, the House came back from several near-death experiences on health care in March and April, and still managed to get something approved in May. So, just because the Senate has thrown a tire does not mean that the entire bill is going into the Legislative Ditch. Speaker Paul Ryan said a few hours before the Senate got the chain wrapped around the axle that he wouldn’t bet against his Senate counterpart. The Majority Leader will be tested now, and we’ll see how Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) performs in the spotlight.

Stay tuned.

Short on votes, Senate Republicans delay vote on GOP health bill

Published: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 2:50 PM
Updated: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 2:50 PM

Unable to muster enough votes, Republican leaders in the Senate said on Tuesday that they would not force a final vote on a GOP health care bill this week, trying to get extra time to negotiate a plan which could win the backing of 50 Republican Senators, as a vote seemed like to slip into the month of July.

“It’s a big complicated subject,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who downplayed GOP troubles, vowing not to give up on changes to the Obama health law.

“Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody would hope,” McConnell added, as GOP Senators were to meet later in the day with President Donald Trump at the White House.