Aside from perhaps the 2024 Olympics, few issues have generated more rhetoric among Massachusetts politicians this year than opiate addiction. Actual progress has not always been able to match the good intentions, but two members of Congress are suddenly seeing a little movement on different pieces of legislation.

“I think absolutely there is” momentum on opiate legislation, says Joe Kennedy, sponsor of a new bill introduced last week. “There’s no silver bullet, no one comprehensive plan that’s going to fix this problem, which is why you’ve seen a number of us take up different pieces of it.”

Katherine Clark learned on Thursday that her bill to combat neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) will receive a hearing this week. The testimony will likely highlight the awful affects of NAS, in which newborns experience withdrawal after exposure to drugs in utero. The March of Dimes is among the organizations advocating for the law, which seeks strategies both for treatment of affected infants, but also prevention of opiate abuse during pregnancy.

“People are really starting to understand that this is a problem,” Clark says. “My strategy for getting support for this bill has been to find Republicans from other states who share this unfortunate status with us, of having high numbers of opiate addicts.”

That includes not only New England, but Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Clark says. Her bill has already picked up 73 co-sponsors, including more than 30 Republicans, and all but Michael Capuano and Richard Neal from Massachusetts. Perhaps more importantly, similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by none other than the Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. That’s no guarantee of success, however: the same bill went nowhere in the last legislative session.

But the hearing this week is a firm step: it will take place Thursday, before the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health. Kennedy, who is on that subcommittee, sponsored a bill of his own last week: The Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act of 2015. He joined with Republican Susan Brooks of Indiana to introduce it on Thursday.

That’s the House version of a Senate bill sponsored by Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Its scope is broader: establishing a task force on prescribing practices, increasing grants for Nalaxone, and funding law-enforcement programs.

Also in Kennedy’s subcommittee is a bill filed by William Keating of Massachusetts earlier this year: the Stop Tampering of Prescription Pills Act. Over in the Senate, Ed Markey joined with Ayotte to introduce the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act.

Kennedy says that Thursday’s hearing on Clark’s bill – which he calls a “critical piece” of addressing the problem – is the latest in a series of testimony that, he believes, is changing minds in Congress. “Urban districts, rural districts, suburban districts – everybody has a story on this,” he says. “People are realizing this is a national problem.”

Pingree Credits Comedian With Assist

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine has been pleading for the contract chicken farmers for years, but she concedes that John Oliver probably had more influence over a surprise development last week.

Yes, the television comedian John Oliver.

In mid-May, Oliver did a lengthy segment on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, highlighting the plight of contract chicken farmers. It has been viewed nearly three million times.

In particular, Oliver pointed out that Republicans annually include, in a large agriculture appropriation bill, language that essentially bars the government from enforcing a 2008 law protecting those farmers from mistreatment and unfair practices by the big chicken processors.

In particular, that 2008 law protects those contract farmers from retaliation from the chicken industry. The Republican language prevents the government from enforcing that protection.

Pingree, one of four Democrats on the Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, has argued against this language regularly, to no avail.

But last week, much to her surprise, the subcommittee approved the agriculture appropriations bill without that Republican add-on.

It could still be added on later in the process, but usually the subcommittee is exactly where it comes in. Pingree would love to take some credit for this apparent victory, but her office tells me they credit where they think it’s due: a foul-mouthed British comic.

Votes Split The Ranks

Massachusetts Democrats don’t always vote in lockstep, as was in evidence on two votes last week in the House of Representatives.

First was an anti-war resolution, introduced by Massachusetts’s own Jim McGovern (which I previewed last week). It sought to direct the President to remove American troops from Iraq and Syria, where they are currently engaged in efforts against the Islamic State.

The resolution failed, 139–288, with 120 Democrats and 19 Republicans voting in favor.

Although most of the Bay State’s representatives supported their colleague’s efforts, Seth Moulton did not. In a statement, he suggested that, although he voted against the resolution, he shares McGovern’s frustration at Congress’s inaction: “For nearly a year Congress has abdicated its responsibility to debate and define the scope of our military efforts in the Middle East. That failure continues to undermine this country’s efforts to combat the very real threat of ISIL. We can’t ask our men and women in uniform to fight a war their elected officials don’t have the courage to authorize.”

The next day, the House voted on repealing a medical device tax, that was instituted in the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare. The measure passed, 280–140, with 46 Democrats joining the entire Republican caucus.

Massachusetts is home to quite a few manufacturers affected by the 2.3% excise tax, and they’ve lobbied hard to undo the tax. But Democrats argue that the repeal bill fails to replace the $24 billion of revenue the tax will bring in over the next 10 years.

Michael Capuano, Joe Kennedy, Jim McGovern, Richard Neal, and Niki Tsongas voted no; Clark, Moulton, Bill Keating, and Steve Lynch voted yes.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it is thought to have a better chance of passage than previous years’ attempts.

But Massachusetts’s Senators remain a tough sale. Although both Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren say they support repealing the medical device tax, both insist on making it revenue neutral – Markey introduced a bill in March to accomplish that by ending tax incentives for oil and gas exploration, among other items.

If it does pass the Senate, Obama is expected to veto.

Social Media Photo Of The Week

When they return to their district, politicians love to visit classes and read to the children. As seen in this photo he tweeted on Friday, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is willing to join the students and be read to.