In Our View: An Empty Gesture

Herrera Beutler urges more mental health funding, but actions belie stance

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Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is sending mixed messages. And while the Republican from Battle Ground is on point in urging more funding for mental health care, that exhortation is incongruous with her other efforts in Congress.

Herrera Beutler recently led a bipartisan group that sent a letter to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget. “We are committed to building better futures for individuals and families affected by mental illness,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, stories of families who have suffered attempting to find care for a loved one are all too common. The opioid crisis has exacerbated and exhausted the attempt to find solutions on mental health and substance use disorders.”

The letter urges robust funding for mental health in the federal budget for fiscal year 2019, and Herrera Beutler wrote in a Facebook post, “We must address the mental health crisis our nation is facing. To do so, we need federal resources carefully targeted at efforts that will help thousands of people in Southwest Washington and across the country.”

That is a worthy sentiment and would reflect a wise investment in the American people. Effective spending on mental health care can help reduce costs for other social services. The state of the nation’s mental health impacts homelessness, violence, and other social ills. But the necessary call for attention to such care belies some of Herrera Beutler’s other positions.

For example, one of the keys to improving mental health is to maintain the Medicaid expansion that was part of the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. As University of Chicago professor Harold Pollock wrote for The Washington Post in 2015: “Medicaid expansion was always the public health cornerstone of ACA. It remains the single most important measure to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment, serving severely vulnerable populations such as the homeless.”

Yet Herrera Beutler repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — colloquially known as Obamacare — when President Barack Obama was in office. To her credit, she voted against the American Health Care Act that passed the House earlier this year before Republican efforts to reform the health system ultimately failed.

For another example, Herrera Beutler recently helped pass a tax plan that analysts say will either greatly increase the federal deficit or require sharp cuts in spending. She defended this support by suggesting that tax cuts will pay for themselves with increased economic activity — a trope that is supported by little evidence and is rejected by most analysts and any honest examination of history.

The letter to the Office of Management and Budget also reads, “We strongly support investments in research, prevention, and treatment programs that will reach populations in need and increase coordination across the federal government.”

Considering that, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 5 American adults suffer from some sort of illness in a given year, such expenditures are necessary. But the representatives who signed the letter offer no proposals for funding. Meanwhile, Herrera Beutler voted in favor of a tax scheme that would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, reduce revenue by $1.7 trillion over 10 years — leading to doubts that money for mental health or other vital services will be available.

Viewing all of her positions together, it appears that Herrera Beutler’s support for mental health care is little more than an empty gesture.