Pallone Floor Remarks in Opposition to the HALT Fentanyl Act
Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) delivered the following remarks on the House floor today on H.R. 467, the HALT Fentanyl Act:
I rise in opposition to H.R. 467.
I have deep concerns with the partisan approach my Republican colleagues have taken on this bill and the harmful implications it would have on our communities if adopted. The substance-use and overdose crises impact all our communities, and the American people deserve bipartisan solutions that address both public safety and public health. This bill fails on both fronts and simply continues the status quo, allowing opioid use disorder and the overdose crisis to continue to devastate American families across the nation.
In 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) first issued a temporary class-wide scheduling order of fentanyl-related substances under Schedule I – the strictest classification for drugs. Congress has voted to extend the temporary order multiple times, most recently in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.
Despite this action over the last four years, overdoses have not gone down, and we have unfortunately made a dent in the incidence of opioid use disorders. Fentanyl and synthetic opioids continue to flood into the country. In testimony before our Committee, the DEA administrator noted that DEA seized more than 50 million fake pills and 10,000 pounds of fentanyl in 2022.
In other words, the HALT Fentanyl Act is a partisan distraction from the hard, bipartisan work that actually has to be done to address a long standing, intractable problem that faces our communities.
We lost over 100,000 people in 2022 to overdoses. This is one of the biggest public health crises our nation has ever faced. Now is not the time for a partisan approach. Now is the time for comprehensive, bipartisan work.
Democrats stand ready to work with Republicans on addressing the fentanyl crisis. We stand ready to work on permanent scheduling so long as it is carefully designed to avoid exacerbating inequities in our criminal justice system.
In Committee, Democrats offered amendments to improve the HALT Fentanyl Act. We asked that Republicans consider additions to the bill that reflect the Biden Administration’s commonsense interagency proposal. The proposal would permanently schedule FRS but establish a set of guardrails that promise a scientific and equitable approach. The Administration’s proposal is reflected in bipartisan legislation by Representatives Pappas, Gonzales, and Newhouse, and includes an off-ramp to allow for expedited descheduling of FRS that are found to be either inert or to have medical applications. There is already evidence that at least one FRS could have potential applications for reversing overdoses, similar to Naloxone. We must provide for such substances to be rapidly descheduled.
The Biden Administration’s proposal also strikes the right balance on public safety by ensuring that permanent scheduling of FRS does not exacerbate existing inequities in our criminal justice system. It eliminates mandatory minimum standards involving FRS unless an offense results in serious bodily injury or death. Instead, the Republican Majority has opted to continue failed punitive mandatory minimum sentencing that we know will disproportionately impact communities of color while doing nothing to address the underlying opioid crisis.
And now, as this bill comes to the House floor, Republicans are continuing to refuse to make this legislation better. Almost 90 amendments were filed for consideration on this bill. Republicans ruled nearly all of them out of order, including the bipartisan Pappas amendment. An amendment from Representative Petterson of Colorado would have provided the “off-ramp” for rapid descheduling of FRS that are inert or have medical applications. An amendment offered by Representative Crockett of Texas would have ensured that federal law does not stand in the way of the use of fentanyl test strips, which are proven to reduce overdoses from fentanyl and FRS. Unfortunately, Republicans refused to make any of these commonsense amendments in order, despite the fact that they are clearly germane.
We simply cannot incarcerate our way out of a public health crisis. The HALT Fentanyl Act does not provide any resources for research, prevention, treatment, recovery, or harm reduction. It also does not provide law enforcement or public health agencies with any additional resources to detect and intercept illicit drugs entering the country.
In fact, nearly every House Republican voted in favor of the extreme Default on America Act, which would inflict devastating cuts that would force communities to lay off thousands of law enforcement officers and first responders. And that’s in addition to the significant cuts the Default on America Act would make to substance use programs that help treat patients in our communities. The reality is that this bill paired with Republicans’ efforts to slash vital public health and safety funding would leave our communities worse off and exacerbate existing inequities in our criminal justice system.
I cannot support the underlying bill in its current form and encourage my colleagues to oppose its passage. And I reserve the balance of my time.