OPINION: WSJ: Nancy Pelosi’s Partisan Play on Mental Health

May 9, 2014

Under the leadership of Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), the committee has spent more than a year reviewing the federal programs that address severe mental illness. Chairman Murphy, a child psychologist, introduced H.R. 3717, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, in December 2013, building on much of what the committee learned throughout its investigation. Two major parts of this bill have already become law as part of H.R. 4302, the Protecting Access to Medicare Act.


May 8, 2014

STRASSEL: Nancy Pelosi’s Partisan Play on Mental Health

Were this a case study in a mental-health journal, it might be characterized as Midterm Derangement Syndrome. As there is no such category, call it what it is: the basest form of Washington politics.

Arizona Rep. Ron Barber, a former aide to Gabby Giffords, led four House Democrats on Tuesday in unveiling The Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act. Mr. Barber insisted his bill is a "comprehensive approach to long-ignored mental health issues" and a completely "nonpartisan" exercise. Which he would say, since this is in reality a Nancy Pelosi special: a raw partisan exercise in killing mental-health reform, shoring up midterm election prospects and protecting Democratic constituencies—all at the expense of the most seriously ill.

The timing, method and content of the Barber bill say it all. Ever since the Sandy Hook shooting, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, a psychologist, has pushed a mental-health reform designed to find and treat the Jared Loughners before they strike. Mr. Murphy's subcommittee spent a year investigating every failed corner of the federal mental-health system and months more working with professionals, advocacy groups and families.

What has most characterized the Murphy effort has been his bipartisanship. His bill doesn't shy away from necessary reforms: fixing broken privacy laws, revamping commitment standards, increasing assisted outpatient treatment, overhauling that broken federal agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Samhsa). Yet rather than point fingers for past failures, Mr. Murphy has presented the bill as an opportunity for all of Congress to finally tackle a serious national problem. His office has engaged in extensive outreach, and since his bill's December debut has collected 77 co-sponsors—a third of them Democrats.

Mr. Murphy also had solicited Mr. Barber's thoughts and was even working recently with his committee counterpart, Colorado's Diana DeGette, in the expectation that she would come on board. All that ended when Ms. Pelosi decided that Republicans couldn't be allowed any victory that might present them as bipartisan, compassionate and leaders on health issues. Mr. Barber and Ms. DeGette received new marching orders.

While Mr. Barber presented the bill (Ms. DeGette is a co-sponsor), the Hill reported late last week that Ms. Pelosi and Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) were "deeply involved in crafting" it. A lobbyist told the paper that "Pelosi and Waxman hope this legislation will blow up any kind of continuing dialogue with Murphy." …

Read the entire column online HERE.