Democrats To Seek Changes, Boosted Funding During PEPFAR Reauthorization Debate
Some Congressional Democrats have proposed removing abstinence program spending requirements and a mandatory pledge against commercial sex work in the upcoming reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the AP/Yahoo! News reports (Abrams, AP/Yahoo! News, 2/2). The lawmakers also are hoping to allow "reproductive health groups to have broader access to U.S. money," according to CQ Today.
The reauthorization draft bill is scheduled to be considered in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Feb. 7. It would remove a current requirement that at least one-third of HIV prevention funds focus countries receive through PEPFAR be used for abstinence-until-marriage programs. It also would revoke a requirement that PEPFAR recipients pledge opposition to commercial sex work in order to receive funding. The draft bill's broadening of PEPFAR money to family planning groups is seen by some as "opening a door to funding abortion providers" overseas, which is illegal for Congress to do, according to CQ Today.
In addition, the bill would allocate $50 billion for PEPFAR over the next five years. President Bush has called on Congress to authorize a $30 billion, five-year extension of PEPFAR. According to CQ Today, the administration has "questioned" whether PEPFAR focus countries can manage $50 billion. However, some advocates say the administration's request of $30 billion over five years would not increase PEPFAR funding because Congress provided nearly $6 billion in the fiscal year 2008 omnibus budget.
"I have wanted to avoid a protracted debate over issues involving assistance for reproductive health and abortion in order to maintain our focus on supporting the successful existing strategy and on meeting the continuing challenge of fighting the spread of AIDS," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), the ranking Republican of the Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to committee Chair Tom Lantos (D-Calif.).
Katie Porter, a legislative policy analyst at Population Action International, said the bill would increase grants to health groups already working overseas to fight HIV/AIDS. "We have this one opportunity to dramatically strengthen the programs and reach that many more people, and that would be a big failure on Congress' part to avoid that debate because of an ideological difference about family planning," she said. "It's ludicrous that U.S. efforts to combat and prevent HIV wouldn't have a strong family planning and reproductive health component to them," she added.
According to a Republication aide, if PEPFAR's abstinence-until-marriage spending requirement is removed, there is a "good reason to believe that abstinence and be-faithful programs will be simply ignored in favor of condoms" (Graham-Silverman, CQ Today, 2/1).
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that current PEPFAR requirements "have placed politics above science," adding that "the administration's abstinence-before-marriage earmark shortchanges the prevention programs that are most effective" (AP/Yahoo! News, 2/2).
The Bush administration on Friday released the fourth annual PEPFAR report to Congress. The report, titled "The Power of Partnerships," is available online.