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Almost Committed

The House GOP inches toward mental-illness reform.

Jun 10, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 37 • By MARK STRICHERZ
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Torrey is not a natural ally of the GOP. A registered Democrat, he has urged new federal dollars to help treat the severely mentally ill. Yet he has emerged as a serious policy wonk for conservatives seeking to respond to the Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown massacres. He called for the abolition of SAMHSA in an op-ed for National Review Online two years ago and criticized the federal government’s role in the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. In his heavily liberal profession, he has long been considered an iconoclast. “People don’t see Fuller as representing the conservative movement, but they do think of his approach as conservative,” said Charles Curie, the director of SAMHSA for the first five years of the George W. Bush administration.

Torrey’s plan would cost less than the Obama administration’s proposal. It would not add to the federal debt. It would not change the nation’s gun laws. It would result in government savings in the long run. And it would help prevent mass shootings.

The public is not indifferent to the plight of the mentally ill. In a December Gallup poll, 82 percent said they would support increasing government spending for mental health programs for young people; 67 percent of those were Republicans. Adopting Torrey’s proposal would seem to be a no-brainer for congressional Republicans. Yet not a one—not Murphy, not Cassidy—has. The post-compassionate-conservative GOP is ignoring a golden opportunity to appeal to suburban swing and independent voters without alienating deficit hawks and gun-rights supporters.

Torrey is not crushed by the absence of patronage for his plan: “Actually, I’m encouraged,” he says. 

“Congress hasn’t looked at the issue in 30 years.”

Mark Stricherz, author of Why the Democrats Are Blue (Encounter Books), is Washington bureau chief of the Colorado Observer.

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