Washington, DC – Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) delivered remarks at a Subcommittee on Health hearing titled, “High Anxiety and Stress: Legislation to Improve Mental Health During Crisis.”
I’d like to thank Chairwoman Eshoo and Ranking Member Burgess for convening this hearing today to examine several measures to make meaningful improvements to mental health services in this country. The Committee on Energy and Commerce has led the way in addressing mental health and substance use disorders for years, and I’m pleased that we are continuing to work to address these issues that are so critical for many Americans.
Too many of us have lost loved ones to suicide – like my friend former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, who tragically lost his son Garrett Lee Smith to suicide one day before his 22nd birthday. I worked with Senator Smith on the original Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which provides information and training for suicide prevention, surveillance, and intervention strategies for all ages, and was proud to see this important program reauthorized and expanded in Cures. Many of the bills before us today will further improve crisis intervention and suicide prevention, including:
• H.R. 3539, the Behavioral Health Intervention Guidelines Act;
• H.R. 4564, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act;
• H.R.4585, the Campaign to Prevent Suicide Act;
• H.R. 4861, Effective Suicide Screening in the Emergency Department Act;
• H.R. 5619, the Suicide Prevention Act;
• H.R. 5855, Bipartisan Solution to Cyclical Violence Act;
• H.R. 7147, the CRISIS Act;
• H.R. 7293, the STANDUP Act; and
• H.R. 7316, the Emergency Mental Health and Substance Use Technical Assistance Act.
I am looking forward to working with our colleagues in the majority to move these bills through the legislative process. Consideration of these bills could not come at a more pressing time. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn have impacted the mental health and wellbeing of all Americans.
A recently released report by the Well Being Trust and the American Academy of Family Physicians predicted that an additional 150,000 Americans could die because of suicide, or drug/alcohol misuse as a result of the pandemic. These “deaths from despair” will likely increase. As continued lockdowns further isolation and deepen the economic downturn; states will need resources to help prevent them.
However, I am concerned that one of the bills would make states ineligible for mental health and substance use disorder grants if they cannot meet the bill’s mandates. Under this bill, certain states would be stripped of all SAMHSA funding, including Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Community Mental Health Services Block Grants. My friends in the majority may not have considered that these mandates are logistically impossible to meet as many states do not have year-round legislatures. Furthermore, cutting states’ critical funding at a time when they are needed most is wrong.
I wish the Majority had taken the time to work with us on consensus language on some of the bills before us today. Our staff proactively reached out to try to find agreement on modifications that could have led us to support the bills instead of moving these bills in a partisan fashion. Unfortunately, these efforts were not successful and our friends on the other side of the aisle ignored our concerns. I have serious concerns about moving forward with any virtual markup of partisan bills. And if the Majority chooses to do so, I’d like to be on-record here today saying our members will be prepared to offer any and all amendments necessary to get these bills to an acceptable place.
Moving public health bills should not be a partisan exercise. When Dr. Burgess and I chaired this committee, rarely did we notice public health bills that the minority could not support. I urge the majority to go back to the bipartisan tradition of this committee and work together with us on a package of bills that can make it across the finish line. We remain open to compromise; we want to find consensus; and we want to legislate – so I hope the majority can course-correct going forward.
There are many bills that I think could make meaningful improvements to mental health services in this country, and I hope we can work together over the next few weeks to get the needed Agency technical assistance. Should this occur, I look forward to advancing these measures together.
We have a lot of ground to cover today. I thank you for the opportunity to discuss these critical issues and I yield back.