Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves PEPFAR Reauthorization Bill
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday voted 18-3 to approve a bill (S 2731) that would reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief at $50 billion over five years, CQ Today reports. Committee members agreed to hold amendments to the bill until full Senate consideration. According to CQ Today, the three votes against the bill came from Republicans who objected to allocating $50 billion to the program (Graham-Silverman, CQ Today, 3/13). PEPFAR originally was authorized at $15 billion over five years, and President Bush has called on Congress to reauthorize the program at $30 billion over five years.
The Senate reauthorization bill is similar to the House version, which was approved last month. The House version also would authorize $50 billion over five years and has the support of some House Republicans and the Bush administration.
The House bill would allow groups to use PEPFAR funding for HIV testing and education in family planning clinics but not for contraception or abortion services. The Senate version does not mention family planning.
Both the Senate and House versions of the bill 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. They also would retain the requirement that PEPFAR recipients pledge opposition to commercial sex work. Both versions would require a report to Congress if abstinence and fidelity programs account for less than 50% of prevention spending in each PEPFAR focus country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/13).
In addition, the Senate version includes a requirement that 10% of funds be allocated for services aimed at AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children, according to Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joseph Biden (D-Del.) (Povich, CongressDaily, 3/14). It also includes a provision, introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), that would lift some U.S. HIV/AIDS-related travel restrictions. Included in the $50 billion allocated by the Senate version are $4 billion for tuberculosis programs and $5 billion for malaria efforts worldwide (Abrams, AP/Google.com, 3/13).
"We wanted to get this up and out, as the quicker we get this moving the more lives we're going to be saving," Biden said. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said that the $50 billion funding allocation surpasses the need and capacity of PEPFAR focus countries. "We're just pushing the gas pedal when it's already floored," he said. U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul, who administers PEPFAR, said the committee showed "fantastic bipartisan support."
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she is "disappointed that the bill before us today does now acknowledge the important links between family planning and global AIDS programs." Boxer said she plans to introduce language that would expand the ability of family planning groups to provide HIV/AIDS services when the measure reaches the full Senate.
The House version of the bill is expected to reach the floor during the first week of April, according to CQ Today. Although it is unclear when the Senate version will reach the floor, members hope to have it passed when Bush attends the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit in Japan, which begins July 7 (CQ Today, 3/13).