House Foreign Affairs Committee Approves PEPFAR Reauthorization Bill
The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved a draft bill (HR 5501) to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, CQ Today reports (Graham-Silverman, CQ Today, 2/27).
The bill, which was considered by the foreign affairs committee following meetings between White House officials and committee members on Tuesday, would allocate $50 billion for PEPFAR over the next five years. President Bush had called on Congress to authorize a $30 billion, five-year extension of PEPFAR. The bill also would remove 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 would require "balanced funding" for abstinence, fidelity and condom programs based on evidence in each PEPFAR focus country. In addition, the bill would retain the requirement that PEPFAR recipients pledge opposition to commercial sex work (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/27).
The bill would allow groups to use PEPFAR funding for HIV testing and education in family planning clinics but not for contraception or abortion services. According to the Washington Post, an earlier version of the bill would have allowed the money to be used for such services. The compromise bill also would require reports to Congress if abstinence and fidelity programs comprise less than half of country-level spending on programs aimed at preventing sexual transmission of the virus, the Post reports.
In addition, the bill would allocate about $9 billion to fight tuberculosis and malaria, which often affect HIV-positive people in Africa. That amount also would underwrite food supplements for people living with HIV/AIDS. The bill would provide loans to women widowed by the disease or ostracized because of their HIV-positive status (Brown, Washington Post, 2/28).
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the White House "applaud[ed] the committee's work in quickly moving this bill forward." She added, "We hope that the House and Senate will soon follow suit and send it on to the president for signature" (CQ Today, 2/27). Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) -- who became acting chair of the committee after the death of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) -- said, "This bill is not perfect, but no compromise ever is" (Washington Post, 2/28).
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) added that many lawmakers agreed that not reaching a compromise "would do irreparable damage to what is arguably the most successful U.S. foreign assistance program of the last half century" (AP/International Herald Tribune, 2/27).
"This historic agreement will save millions of lives," Paul Zeitz, head of Global AIDS Alliance, said, adding, "With bipartisan support, Congress is beginning to fix aspects of the AIDS program that were clearly not working" (Washington Post, 2/28). Although some public health and family planning groups expressed disappointment that Democrats did not push for changes in funding for reproductive health, it was "clear that some of the strongest advocates" for change had signed onto the bill, according to CQ Today. "Although in the end we had to compromise on several items that were important to me and many Democratic members, I think this is a good bill and I am pleased to support it," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), said (CQ Today, 2/27).
The Guttmacher Institute on Wednesday released a report that examines the effect of voluntary contraceptive programs on U.S. HIV/AIDS efforts. The report is available online.
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on the bill. The segment includes comments from Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE International; Rev. Mpho Tutu of the Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage; and Bill O'Keefe of Catholic Relief Services (Wilson, "Morning Edition," NPR, 2/27). Audio of the segment is available online.