Washington, DC – Thanks to a bipartisan compromise brokered by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), the House today voted overwhelmingly to expand the landmark U.S. effort to combat HIV/AIDS worldwide that, during the past five years, has saved millions of lives.
Despite efforts by some Republican members of Congress to limit the funding it provides, the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5501) was approved 308 to 116. It renews the mandate of an initiative proposed by the President in January 2003 to combat these three lethal diseases; the legislation authorizing this initiative expires in September. The Foreign Affairs Committee passed a five-year reauthorization with a bipartisan voice vote on February 27.
Berman argued for the reauthorization on the House floor today, noting, “As a direct result of the extraordinarily successful law we passed five years ago, the United States has provided life-saving drugs to nearly 1.5 million men, women and children; supported care for nearly 7 million people, including 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children; and prevented an estimated 150,000 infant infections around the world.”
He also pointed out the program’s sometimes-overlooked foreign policy significance. “The 2003 legislation firmly established the United States as the leading provider in the world of HIV/AIDS assistance for prevention, treatment and care,” Berman said. “It has reminded the global community that Americans are a compassionate and generous people, and so has helped to repair our nation’s badly-damaged image overseas. In many ways, that legislation has had great healing power.”
The 2003 law provided the U.S. global health effort $15 billion over five years; the legislation passed by the House today authorizes $50 billion for the next five years. The President had called for only a $30 billion reauthorization, and the White House renewed that call just after the February committee vote; nevertheless, yesterday the Administration issued a statement strongly supporting the legislation. Some members of Congress this week sought amendments to cut the program’s budget back to $15 billion, but they did not succeed.
The new measure contains provisions that move the global HIV/AIDS program beyond the “emergency” phase of implementation under the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and seeks to make the programs that it supports more sustainable over the long term. It dramatically boosts HIV/AIDS programming related to women and girls; strengthens health systems in countries hard-hit by the virus that causes AIDS; authorizes HIV/AIDS programs to include linkages to food and nutrition, education and health care programs; and increases U.S. contributions to the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The legislation overturns the controversial and ineffective 1/3 abstinence-only requirement that applies to global HIV/AIDS prevention funding, which was included in the 2003 law over the objections of the then-Democratic minority. This restriction has subsequently proven to hamper the effectiveness of health care efforts in the field, as documented in recent, independent reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Instead, the Executive Branch will be directed to promote a “balanced” prevention program in all countries where the program operates, including every element of the Abstinence, “Be Faithful,” and Condoms (ABC) approach toward HIV transmission prevention.
Making his case before his House colleagues today, Berman talked about these changes and the process of negotiation and compromise that led to the current version of the legislation. In closing, he pointed to the project’s real bottom line: “Each and every day, another 6000 people become infected with HIV. We have a moral imperative to act, and to act decisively.”