HIV/AIDS Advocates Petition Sen. Reid To Override Sen. Coburn’s Block on PEPFAR Reauthorization Bills
In a petition generated by MoveOn.org recently presented to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), advocates asked him to override seven Republican senators, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who are blocking a vote on measures (HR 5501, S 2731) aimed at reauthorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, CQ Today reports. More than 15,000 people have signed the petition, according to CQ Today (Graham-Silverman, CQ Today, 6/13).
The Senate version of the PEPFAR reauthorization bill passed the Foreign Relations Committee in March, and the House version was approved 308-116 in April. Both the Senate and House versions of the bill would reauthorize PEPFAR at $50 billion over five years (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/4).
Coburn and six other Republican senators are blocking the legislation because they are opposed to the legislation's cost and "mission creep" into health and development efforts, CQ Today reports. In addition, they want language inserted into the measure that would guarantee that 55% of PEPFAR funding goes toward treatment, including antiretroviral drugs. Some advocates have said that they would agree to the treatment language but that efforts to compromise with Coburn have been ineffective. Coburn declined to comment on the negotiations.
According to CQ Today, it is unclear whether the legislation will reach the Senate floor this year. Supporters of the measure had hoped it would pass the Senate ahead of the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit in July. However, Reid's aides said there is nothing he can do in response to the petition. In addition, Senate Democrats have been unwilling to bring the measure to a floor vote because it would "give [President] Bush an item for his legacy on his way out of office," according to some advocates. "There's no political win for (Reid) if it passes," one advocate said.
Some other Republican senators also have expressed concern about the bill and an interest in offering amendments. In addition, Republicans are likely to criticize the $50 billion funding amount in the bill. Reid spokesperson Jim Manley said that the measure is a "priority" for Reid but that the bill "not only faces holds but also a ton of amendments."
Some international reproductive health groups, which are upset that the legislation does not link family planning programs and HIV prevention, have said it would be better to pass PEPFAR reauthorization legislation next year when there is a new administration. However, supporters have said the bipartisan support for the bill might not continue next year because of concerns over the U.S. economy.
In an effort to pass the measure ahead of the G8 summit and July 4 recess, supporters are launching an effort that will include a sit-in as early as this week in the Senate, as well as a protest march on June 26, CQ Today reports. Advocates also are encouraging the White House to increase pressure to pass the legislation. Mark Dybul, U.S. Global AIDS coordinator who administers PEPFAR, declined to comment on the negotiations but said they are ongoing. "Everyone's trying really hard right now," Dybul said (CQ Today, 6/13).