WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday told reporters she was unsure when Congress would fund new initiatives specific to addressing the opioid crisis.
Sanders declined to guarantee that additional spending would be included in either a stopgap spending bill Congress is expected to approve in the coming week or a longer-term budget agreement many expect lawmakers to reach in January.
“This wasn’t a problem that happened overnight,” Sanders said. “We’re not going to be able to fix it overnight. But what we want to do is make sure that we address it and that we make it a priority for the administration.”
Her comments came in response to a STAT report detailing White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s role in organizing weekly meetings focused on the opioid crisis that include officials from roughly a dozen federal departments.
In an interview with STAT, Conway pushed back against the notion that the White House was not urging Congress to allocate more funding to address the crisis, and she declined to say how much more the White House feels would be appropriate to spend on a broader mental health and addiction crisis claiming more than 60,000 lives per year.
Sanders was also asked about proposals to spend $45 billion over the course of the next decade — a proposal included in one GOP attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and now a figure that has been included in Democratic-sponsored bills in the House and Senate.
“That’s, I think, a start,” Sanders said. “But to fully address this, we want to make sure that we get it right and make sure that we really address this head on. And that’s why the president has made it such a focus and put Kellyanne and others here at the White House to really make an emphasis and make that a priority.”
Congress approved roughly $2.1 billion in spending on addiction treatment and prevention efforts in 2016. Public health experts have estimated the true cost of effectively addressing the epidemic at tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. Legislators have not yet detailed plans to go further.