Senate Leaders Reach ‘Tentative’ Agreement on Legislation To Reauthorize PEPFAR, AP/Google.com Reports
Senate negotiators on Wednesday reached a "tentative" agreement on measures (HR 5501, S 2731) to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the AP/Google.com reports (Abrams, AP/Google.com, 6/25).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week set a Tuesday deadline for negotiators to come to an agreement on the reauthorization measures but moved the deadline to Wednesday earlier this week after Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joseph Biden (D-Del.) asked for one more day to finalize the deal. 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 blocked the legislation in opposition to its cost and "mission creep" into health and development efforts. In addition, they sought language that would guarantee that 55% of PEPFAR funding goes toward treatment, including antiretroviral drugs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/25).
According to Reid, Democratic leaders reached an "agreement in principle" with Coburn and the six other senators. Under the agreement, "more than half" of PEPFAR funding would go to treatment, according to the AP/Google.com. The agreement requires that antiretrovirals used in PEPFAR programs be approved by FDA or another approved regulator agency. In addition, the agreement prevents PEPFAR funding for wealthier developing nations, such as China and Russia.
Reid said that with the agreement, the Senate "should be able" to pass the legislation "quickly and easily." Reid said he hopes to pass the legislation before President Bush leaves for the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit, which begins July 7 in Japan. However, some leaders involved in the negotiations said the Senate might not take up the legislation until after the July 4 recess (AP/Google.com, 6/25). 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/25).
Reid said he hopes the Senate "can agree to pass this bipartisan legislation by unanimous consent" ahead of the G8 summit. He added he will move to pass the bill early in July if the Senate does not act on it this week (Graham-Silverman, CQ Today, 6/25). Reid added that it "would send an important message to the world that our country's commitment to fight HIV/AIDS has not wavered" if the Senate passes the bill ahead of the G8 summit. Biden welcomed the deal, saying that "it is our moral obligation to lead the effort to fight these diseases" (AP/Google.com, 6/25).
White House spokesperson Dana Perino said Congress and the White House have "made tremendous progress toward getting this bill passed," adding the White House "really want[s] to make sure Congress does this before they leave for their recess in August" (CQ Today, 6/25).
"I'm encouraged the Bush administration and congressional leaders decided to restore much of this key [treatment] provision that has been so integral to PEPFAR's success," Coburn said (AP/Google.com, 6/25). While Coburn said he supports the agreement, he also indicated he would object if Democrats do not allow a full Senate debate and open amendment process, which according to CQ Today means "a unanimous-consent request is unlikely to win Coburn's approval." Some Republicans who had blocked the bill with Coburn also expressed opposition to a unanimous consent vote and are working on their own amendments to the legislation.
Reid said that he hopes Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) could persuade objectors to allow the bill to move. "He had three people who were objecting to that," Reid said earlier, adding, "He took care of two of them today and hopes to take care of the other tomorrow" (CQ Today, 6/25).
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who was one of the seven Republicans blocking the legislation, continued to object to the cost of the measure, saying it is "completely irresponsible" for the U.S. "to attempt to buy friendship around the world by spending $50 billion" (Rosen, Columbia State, 6/26).
David Bryden, a spokesperson for the Global AIDS Alliance, said the group is reviewing the new agreement but is concerned that the amount of funding allocated to treatment will limit available funds for other services, such as care for AIDS orphans. He said the group "will be forced to oppose this bill if it compromises the effectiveness" of PEPFAR (AP/Google.com, 6/25). Several hundred advocates on Thursday plan to march on the Senate and give funeral wreaths to Senators who have blocked the legislation, according to Bryden (Abdullah, McClatchy, 6/25).
The seven Republican senators who are blocking the legislation "should clear the way soon to allow swift action and make it possible for the president to take the U.S. commitment" to the G8 summit, an Asheville Citizen-Times editorial says. The editorial adds that it is "hard to comprehend how a few senators can stand in the way" of the legislation (Asheville Citizen-Times, 6/26).