On the death of Never Murphy

How in the world did never Murphy become probably Upton??

For three years the Never Murphy battle has been passionate and unrelenting. He created the most unlikely to ever be passed bill in history. Support of it was passionate but opposition was equally so. People lined up to oppose it and for those undecided Murphy showed a unique ability to consistently insult anyone who was not a true believer in his cause. His appearances on TV after each mass shooting to explain how his bill would have prevented it were among the most distasteful political theater until Donald Trump took the form to new lows.

It was a crusade hamstrung by the inability of its leader to see that rabid antagonism of everyone who disagreed with you was not the way to build legislative consensus. He went to a subcommittee markup touting the bipartisanship of his bill and was savaged by the other party. He won the vote. There were more Republicans. He won the battle but in a real way lost the war. A Republican leadership desperately wanting to show it could work with other people and accomplish something was left with the posturing of a schoolyard bully.

They had the votes to win then. They have really had them from the beginning probably. But Murphy was the child parents don’t really want to let outside for fear he will embarrass the family. He had a bill that could never become law. He was not confirmation of the Republican claim to be able to really get things done but another proof when the day was done they did little more than posture and toot their own horn.

The Democrats had written a great letter detailing their problems with the Murphy Bill. They outlined each of the poison pills in the bill and then when the new legislative session started they introduced their own Bill.

Meanwhile in the Senate a bill was being developed that was a bipartisan Bill. It was not, in my opinion the solution to much, but it was not Murphy. Virtually all of his crown jewels were basically left out. The House which desperately wanted to tout itself was left holding last year’s model in this year’s contest.

Donald Trump added to the mix. He added to the desperation. Rep Ryan and company were stuck with the fear that the party would be stuck as “just Trump” but they didn’t and still don’t have any other path, any other record to point to. Trump was omnipresent and they did not have a parallel universe to retreat to.

Upton made the deal. He threw some bones his way but basically cut Murphy off at the knees. He gave the Democrats what they wanted, at least as much as he felt like he had to. The Democrats gave him what he wanted…. “A bipartisan Bill.”

Below is a quote from someone in the office of a Democratic congresswoman on the committee in response to a request for an exclamation of what happened (thanks to Amy Smith for sharing) :

“I would describe what happened as a standard negotiation between Republicans and Democrats on the committee with the hope of developing a compromise. While the bill reported out of the committee is not perfect, we believe significant progress was made on the concerns within the letter.

I will quickly run through a few items mentioned in the letter below, in case it’s helpful. I understand the federal policy folks at the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery have worked with Rep. Pallone’s Energy & Commerce staff in the past. I would encourage them to reach out to those staffers for more detailed information.

HIPAA – The provisions in HR 2646 that would diminish privacy rights for patients with mental health diagnoses by amending HIPAA have been removed from the bill. They were replaced with a sense of Congress regarding HIPAA (which does not carry the weight of law) and increased resources to help train providers and other stakeholders about HIPAA disclosures.

AOT – The provisions in HR 2646 that would have tied state eligibility for block grant funding to having AOT programs in place have also been removed. They were replaced with an increase in authorization for an AOT grant program that exists under current law. The inpatient treatment standard provisions that tied certain commitment standards to block grant funding have also been removed.

PAIMI – The provisions in HR 2646 that would have narrowed the scope of PAIMI activities to situations of “abuse and neglect” and prohibited P&As from having certain communications with their clients have been removed. An altered version of the lobbying provision remains in place. There is also a new appeals process. While most Democrats would have preferred to see those provisions removed as well, we were happy to see the other PAIMI provisions (which we viewed as the most threatening) taken out.

SAMHSA – The updated version of the bill preserves SAMHSA and its core functions/programs. The new Asst Secretary will be the SAMHSA Administrator. The new Asst Secretary also will not be required to have clinical/doctoral credentials. As a compromise, there are some provisions in the bill that would review and audit SAMHSA’s performance and functions.

I hope this information is helpful.”

I think the explanation for the vote was simple. Despite what I think. Despite what you think. Despite what anybody thinks. The Democrats thought they won. In a setting in which they did not have the votes to win they won major concessions which they believed blunted or even eliminated much of the harm the original Bill seemed to threaten. If we don’t start by understanding this we hamstring our ability to respond in major ways. It is like going to a movie with someone and then when you describe what you saw they tell you they seen to have seen a different show than the one you saw.

I think the battle in the House is lost. Unless other political factors get in the way there will be an Upton(Murphy) Bill. The only way past that is to find a way to convince Democrats the “victory” they feel like they won is less than the victory needed and the victory that can be won. My opinion and it is only my opinion that telling them this is the worst possible bill is a waste of time and strategically a horrible choice. We have to find a way to say we want more that resonates with them and moves them to action. The chances I think are slim.

The House bill means nothing without a Senate bill and there I think there is hope. Some influential Senators like Lamar Alexander and others did not like the original Murphy Bill at all.

The other issue in the Senate is gun control. Many Democrats are hesitant to vote on a bill touted at all so an answer to violence without guns being addressed. This is especially true in an election year where many Republican Senators are fighting for their political lives. I don’t know how the votes this weekend on guns will affect things but bipartisan spirit due in part to the Republicans refusal to move on the Supreme Court nominee is not at its highest. I think they will try again to force a vote on guns and the possibility is real Sen McConnell will say mental health will have to wait until after the election.

I have read for example of some effort to fold the mental health bill into other legislation just to get it to the floor. The prospect of all kinds of amendments being brought up are real. This is where I think attention should be focused.

A couple of closing points.

1. There is a real question in my mind whether or not any real system changing legislation will ever come at the federal level. I think sometimes the most you can do is minimize the damage done. I realize that may be a very unpopular opinion and it is not one I originally shared but I wonder now if it is not the most realistic way to see things.
2. This may even be more unpopular. I think if we are to be successful we must develop our capacity for effective advocacy to a point far greater than it is now. We have not made the difference we hoped to make. This was real painfully obvious in the last “Democratic win.” I have talked some in recent posts about some elements needed for effective advocacy and many of them we lack. Advocacy is basically a competitive sport. Passion and moral outrage is not enough. The other side had that also.

This is my view of what has happened and what needs to happen. I may be wrong but I think it I is so important to try to look clearly at where we are now and plan a path forward that makes a difference.


4 thoughts on “On the death of Never Murphy”

  1. I agree, the battle in the House is lost, and it’s because the Democrats caved. They made a deal to allow a few cosmetic insignificant changes in the worst aspects of the Murphy bill and then acted like they won major concessions.

  2. I agree with most points you make Larry, and overall it is well stated. NCMHR has 4 continuing areas of concern about new HR 2646, which we will send out . Our plan, slow march of HR 2646 to floor and promote senate S 2680 version. I agree we need a stronger voice.

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