House Foreign Affairs Committee Members, White House Officials Meet To Discuss PEPFAR ReauthorizationHouse Foreign Affairs Committee members and White House officials met on Tuesday to create a compromise draft bill to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, CQ Politics reports (Graham-Silverman, CQ Politics, 2/27).
The original reauthorization draft bill included Democratic-proposed changes to PEPFAR, such as the removal of a requirement that at least one-third of HIV prevention funds that focus countries receive through PEPFAR be used for abstinence-until-marriage programs. It also included a provision to revoke a requirement that PEPFAR recipients pledge opposition to commercial sex work in order to receive funding. Some Republicans also said that the original draft bill would have removed rules that allow family planning groups to receive PEPFAR money for HIV/AIDS programs only if the money was not spent on abortion. In addition, the original 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/8).
Tuesday's compromise draft bill also would allocate $50 billion for PEPFAR over the next five years and remove the abstinence spending requirement, according to CQ Politics. The compromise bill would require "balanced funding" for abstinence, fidelity and condom programs based on evidence in each PEPFAR focus country. It also would require reports to Congress on prevention spending.
In addition, the compromise draft bill would retain the requirement that PEPFAR recipients pledge opposition to commercial sex work. It also would continue to prevent family planning groups from spending HIV/AIDS funds on reproductive health services, CQ Politics reports. The compromise bill would allow funding for HIV testing and education in family planning clinics but would not explicitly authorize funding for contraception. The foreign affairs committee is scheduled to consider the compromise bill on Wednesday (CQ Politics, 2/27).
The Tuesday meeting was the first time that committee members and White House officials met to discuss the draft bill, which was written by late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who chaired the committee until he died on Feb. 11. Acting committee Chair Howard Berman (D-Calif) "appeared ready" to move forward with negotiations, CQ Today reports. "I very much want it to be bipartisan, but I also want the program to be effective," Berman said on Tuesday, adding, "Effectiveness is the key."
Democratic committee spokesperson Lynne Weil said it is "very encouraging that the White House and the minority staff finally came to the table on this bill." Bill O'Keefe, senior director for advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, said, "They're all good people who want desperately to preserve the program, and they don't want to do anything to jeopardize what is possibly the most successful U.S. policy venture in the last eight years." However, some groups have said that a compromise on the reauthorization bill "would be a disappointment" and that a "harsh debate was inevitable," according to CQ Today. "There's nothing about offering contraception to women that isn't going to be turned into something about abortion," Jodi Jacobson, director of advocacy at the American Jewish World Service, said (Graham-Silverman, CQ Today, 2/26).
Bush Calls on Candidates To Support Africa
In related news, Bush on Tuesday called on all of the 2008 presidential candidates to continue to support U.S. commitments to Africa, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. "Presidential candidates of both parties should make clear that engagement with Africa will be an enduring priority" of the U.S., Bush said during a speech that reviewed his recent five-nation tour of the continent (AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/26). Bush -- who spoke at the Leon Sullivan Foundation in Washington, D.C. -- also said that Congress "needs to make America's commitment clear by fully and promptly funding our development programs." He added, "America is on a mission of mercy. We are treating African leaders as equal partners. ... We expect them to fight corruption and invest in the health and education of their people and pursue market-based economic policies" (Stearns, VOA News, 2/26).