Less than three weeks after proposing a controversial gutting of the drug czar’s office, the White House reversed course on Tuesday and released budget that essentially protects the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
On May 5, the Donald Trump administration revealed a budget plan eviscerating the drug czar’s office — slashing it nearly 95 percent, from the current $388 million to $24 million. According to a memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget, up to 33 employees would have been axed — nearly half the staff.
But after a national outcry from all sides of the drug issue, the administration backed down from the original plan and released a proposal restoring nearly all of the funding. Tuesday’s plan includes $369 million for the ONDCP in 2018, which amounts to a 5 percent cut — a far cry from the 95 percent proposal.
Both Democrats and Republicans fought hard against the original budget cuts, especially lawmakers in areas where the opioid epidemic is particularly problematic.
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Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, one of the loudest critics of the first budget plan, applauded the new proposal. “We must continue to support these and other programs … which are aimed at prevention, treatment and recovery services that so many Americans desperately need,” he said in a statement.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also battled to keep the office intact. In a letter, the two senators urged Trump “to protect ONDCP and maintain the long-standing and effective programs that prevent and fight against the scourge of drug abuse.”
Since 1999, the rate of overdoses from opiates has quadrupled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even Rich Baum, Trump’s acting drug czar, was fought his boss’ massive cuts. In an email to his staff earlier this month, Baum wrote:
“These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking and, if carried out, would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to O.N.D.C.P.’s mission and core activities. I don’t want to see this happen.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) expressed relief following Tuesday’s reversal. West Virginia has been one of the states ravaged by the opioid crisis.
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“I’m happy to see [the Office of Management and Budget] reversed course and included funding for the office in its budget,” she said said in a statement. “We still have a long way to go when it comes to the drug epidemic, and it is essential that we remain fully committed to fighting it. We need to be doing more — not less,” she added.