Effort to End D.C. Assisted-Death Law Appears Over

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., is administered an oath by Vice President Joe Biden during swearing-in ceremony in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, January 03, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The congressional effort to overturn a District of Columbia law allowing doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients with life-ending drugs appears likely to fail, two of the lawmakers involved in the effort said Tuesday.

On Monday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved a resolution to overturn the law, potentially setting it up for a House floor vote later this week. However, under the laws governing congressional involvement in D.C. lawmaking, Congress only has 30 days from the time the District submits its bills to pass disapproval resolution with a simple majority of votes. In this case, the Senate deadline is this Friday.

Sen. James Lankford, the Oklahoma Republican who sponsored the Senate’s disapproval resolution, told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday that he didn’t think there would be enough time for the Senate to act on the resolution. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chair of the House Oversight subcommittee that deals with District affairs, was similarly pessimistic about the resolution’s changes in the Senate. When asked if there would be enough time for the Senate to act, he shook his head no.

That will likely disappoint conservative House Republicans who are pushing to overturn the law. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday that the bill was “badly written” and that Congress had an “obligation to overturn it.”

“We hope leadership brings this bill to the floor,” he said.

Advocates for the D.C. law were not ready to celebrate, noting that Congress could make it slightly harder for D.C. to implement the law by restricting funding during the appropriations process. In theory, Congress might be able to prevent D.C.’s Medicaid program from reimbursing for the medication and potentially could put up other roadblocks.

“There is no funding requirement in the DC law. The funds in question are simply an estimate of the cost to purchase software to track deaths, not funding to help patients access medical aid in dying or doctors to write prescriptions for it,” said Toni Broaddus, an attorney and state advocacy director for Compassion & Choices, a non-profit that advocates for such laws nationwide. “If Congress does not fund the software, the Department of Health could and should find a different way to track deaths.”

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