We are well into the third Murphy season. And this one promises to be more complicated than the other two combined.
The first season witnessed the bursting onto the scene of Rep Murphy as mental health messiah. The tragedy at Newtown was still fresh and Rep. Murphy allied with the vision of Dr. Torrey and the Treatment Advocacy Center came preaching redemption. What followed was an absolutely amazing scorched earth advocacy campaign in which Murphy insulted the integrity of virtually everyone who disagreed with him. The Barber Bill was the final blow and the Murphy Bill ended up its first season more irrelevant than anything.
The second season was the drive to respectability. Dr. Torrey was no longer in the front row of the battle and new faces and new alliances were the order of the day. While little was changed in substance an effort seemed to be made to mute the ferociousness of the presentation. Major organizations only stay major if they are on the winning side of something and he did find allies willing to sign on. He was the only game in town and I wonder how much they just didn’t want to be left out. Major organizations like to promote their brand above all else and Murphy convinced them they won in his vision of the system to come.
The second season also was the entry of the Senate into the issue with their own Murphy Bill. The initial presentation was of the Murphy twins in perfect lock step but differences began to emerge. Sen. Murphy was from Connecticut, a state without AOT, and buttressed by the feedback from advocates in his state he committed the ultimate heresy. He started talking about a Murphy Bill without AOT. I still remember the day I read of Mr. Jaffe imploring all his followers to burn up the phone lines lest they be left with a Murphy Bill they didn’t recognize.
By the end of the year there was several Senate bills and talk of combining them into one giant bill in some as of yet undetermined manner.
In the House Rep Murphy was facing his own challenges. Despite all his talk about being willing to talk with people it turned out what that really meant was he was willing to give everyone an equal opportunity to agree with him. Despite lots of objections not one word of his bill changed. By the end of the summer be had accused the Democrats of trying to sabotage him and the splits were real and obvious. The original task the Republican leadership had given to Murphy to produce a non partisan bill to show that the House could actually accomplish something on a major issue seemed in major trouble.
Rep Murphy did get his bill through mark up in his sub committee but I couldn’t help but wonder if in winning the battle he didn’t put the war in jeopardy. The Democratic attack was withering. They plainly said if a bill was not passed that was more Senate and White House friendly the chances of success, of his bill actually becoming law were slim or none.
And now the third season has started.
Several things cloud the picture. I don’t think anyone really knows what will happen. I don’t think anyone knows for sure if anything will happen. No one has ever went broke betting on the Congress to fail to reach agreement about important matters.
1. The presidential election has and will effect things. Republican candidates in particular seem to be eager to define violence as a mental health issue and in their defense of second amendment “rights” show no reluctance to talk about “crazy people.” To what degree Democrats will support any mental health legislation framed as the solution to gun violence is unclear. This is particularly true if Democratic candidates come out in favor of some type of gun control. If the Republicans are successful in casting gun violence as a mental health issue personally I think we are going to see more and more hostile and limiting legislation as time goes on.
2. The House closed the year with am supposed commitment to address Democratic concerns to the Murphy Bill. The year started with Rep Green introducing a Democratic option. I haven’t yet read his bill yet but I do know it does not start with the assumption of the destruction of SAMHSA like many of the other bills do. It proposes a study but a study not done by anyone named Murphy or Torrey. How the Green bill will affect the Murphy Bill is not clear and not at all played out.
3. Rep Murphy is not in charge of this process. The power players in the Senate are Alexander, Cornyn, Murphy and Cassidy and I see no evidence he will have much influence on them. Sen Alexander in particular has power and he had made his dislike for AOT known.
4. Sen Cornyn would like for his bill to be the one to set the pace. There are strong Democratic reservations to provisions in his bill related to guns and if he tries to push the point it might threaten the “bipartisanship” the Senate is preaching. It might cause the whole thing to dissolve into squabbling.
5. If a bill passes that bill hasn’t been written yet. It will involve compromise from lots of people who do have some differences in the way they see things. Like I said before whether or not that can be done remains to be seen.
6. I think that if a bill can be agreed to that is packaged as bipartisan something will pass. Neither party will let the other own mental health reform. There are just too many people who want something to happen.
7. If a bill is passed I think there will be substantial parts of it not liked by the survivor or consumer community. I have had more than one person tell me that victory in their eyes would be if nothing passed.
8. The future is not written. The verdict is not in. What we do matters. Perhaps there are limits to how much any Bill is likely to improve things. There are no limits though to how much worse a bill can make it.
9. And finally. Rep Murphy has not given up and even with the very real obstacles in his way anybody who writes off his ultimate influence or impact is a fool.