Sen. Reid Says He Will Try To Bring PEPFAR Legislation to Senate Floor on Wednesday
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he will attempt to bring legislation that would reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to the Senate floor on Wednesday, CQ Today reports (Graham-Silverman, CQ Today, 6/24).
Reid last week set a Tuesday deadline for negotiators to come to an agreement on the reauthorization measures (HR 5501, S 2731) (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/20). However, he decided to move the deadline to Wednesday after Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joseph Biden (D-Del.) asked for one more day to finalize the deal. Reid said he will now try to get unanimous consent to move the legislation, regardless of whether a deal is secure (CQ Today, 6/24).
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. However, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) 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. In addition, they want language inserted into the measure that would guarantee that 55% of PEPFAR funding goes toward treatment, including antiretroviral drugs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/20).
Some Senate aides say they have resolved the treatment issue with language that would increase the targeted number of people treated and direct more than half of funding to "treatment and care," according to CQ Today. However, the aides said that objections from other senators, including objections over the cost of the bill, would continue. Sen. Richard Burr (R-S.C.), who is one of the seven blocking the legislation, said, "We have a verbal agreement," adding, "The devil is always in the details."
The Group of Eight industrialized nations summit, which begins on July 7 in Japan, is "putting pressure on all sides to complete the negotiations," according to CQ Today. President Bush has said that he supports the reauthorization legislation and that he would like it to pass in Congress so he can use it at the summit to call for increased contributions from other countries. According to Reid, Bush "said he wants it. Now we've got to get folks on the other side of the aisle, the Republicans, to join with the president on this."
A request for floor time for the bill was sent last month by 14 Republicans, including Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.). The letter "suggested that, with the support of Democrats, the measure would have the support needed to overcome any tests that require 60 votes," CQ Today reports. If successful, however, Reid would need to secure an agreement to limit amendments to prevent a prohibitively long debate. According to CQ Today, a crowded Senate schedule means that Democrats and Republicans could reach an agreement this week but decide to forgo floor action until after the July 4 recess. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "I doubt if it's going to be done this week" (CQ Today, 6/24).
The "global fight against AIDS now rests on the shoulders of seven U.S. senators blocking a bill that would increase spending for" PEPFAR, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial says. "The bill may not be perfect or contain all that the senators desire," the editorial says, adding, "But with bipartisan support in the House and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it's time for the Senate to send this bill to the floor for passage as quickly as possible" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 6/25).