PEPFAR on the Senate floor: so far, so good

According to the Kaiser Network,

The Senate on Tuesday defeated two Republican amendments to legislation (S 2731) that would reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief by “overwhelming margins,” suggesting that a broad majority could pass the measure through the chamber “unscathed,” CQ Today reports.

According to CQ Today, the Senate voted 70-24 to table an amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that would have limited funding to 15 low-income countries where PEPFAR already operates. Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) amendment to reauthorize the program for five years at $15 billion also failed by a vote of 16-80.The current legislation would reauthorize PEPFAR for five years at $50 billion, $20 billion more than what President Bush originally requested. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “At the time of the authorization, it was clear to everyone that ($15 billion) was not nearly sufficient to deal with what is a worldwide dilemma, a worldwide problem,” adding, “We’ve learned a great deal more since then. We should not, in fact, turn back the clock.”

According to an Associated Press article from just a few hours ago,

The Senate on Wednesday diverted $2 billion from a $50 billion global AIDS bill to improve the lives of American Indians.

Senators mainly from the West successfully argued on the need to carve out a small portion of the five-year AIDS spending bill for Indian programs, saying Congress shouldn’t forget a humanitarian crisis much closer to home. […]

The agreement set the stage for passage of the AIDS bill as early as Wednesday evening. With that, the House and Senate would work out a final version to send to President Bush. […]

While the dramatic increase in spending met some resistance, supporters pointed to the notable successes of the past five years in treating those with HIV/AIDS and preventing the spread of the pandemic.

”We have the ability to prevent these illnesses, to treat them as never before, and to save lives,” said Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., a fiscal conservative. ”That’s why this funding is so badly needed and will be so beneficial. This is greatest humanitarian crisis, I think, that I’ve seen.”

It sounds like things are going pretty well so far.  Hopefully we’re almost there.  There are a few more sticky amendments to get past before the bill finally clears the Senate . . . so keep praying!

(Read on for more excerpts from the two articles cited above, especially info on a Senate PEPFAR provision that would get ease travel restrictions on people living with HIV/AIDS.

From the Associated Press:

Among the issues the House and Senate will have to resolve is a Senate-added provision that would end a two-decade old policy whereby HIV-positive foreign nationals are restricted in getting travel visas and applying for residency in the United States.

The U.S. is one of a dozen countries — including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Russia — that ban travel and immigration for HIV-positive people.

Even China, said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., recently changed that policy, deciding it was ”time to move beyond an antiquated, knee-jerk reaction” to people with HIV.

”There’s no excuse for a law that stigmatizes a particular disease,” Kerry said Tuesday at a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies HIV/AIDS Task Force.

Kerry and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., are trying to repeal the ban, first implemented in 1987 and confirmed by Congress in 1993.

Under current law, HIV is the only medical condition explicitly listed under immigration law. The Kerry-Smith provision would make HIV equivalent to other communicable diseases where medical and public health experts at the Health and Human Services Department — not consular officials at U.S. embassies — determine eligibility for admission.

Those with HIV seeking legal permanent residency would still have to demonstrate they have the resources to live in this country and would not become a ”public charge.”

From the Kaiser Network:

The Senate on Wednesday is scheduled to consider a provision included in the PEPFAR legislation that would end restrictions on HIV-positive visitors to the U.S. (CQ Today, 7/15). Under the provision, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), HIV would be considered equivalent to other communicable diseases for which medical and public health experts at HHS — not consular officials at U.S. embassies — determine eligibility for admission. Under the amendment, HIV-positive individuals seeking legal permanent residency still would have to demonstrate they have the resources to live in the U.S. and would not become a “public charge.”

“There’s no excuse for a law that stigmatizes a particular disease,” Kerry said, adding that it is “time to move beyond an antiquated, knee-jerk reaction” to people living with HIV/AIDS. However, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) might offer an amendment to eliminate the Kerry-Smith provision, citing Congressional Budget Office estimates that new immigrants coming to the U.S. under the relaxed policy could cost the government more than $80 million over a 10-year period. The amendment would offset the cost of new immigrants by increasing the price of applying for a visitor’s visa by $1 for three years and $2 for the next five years. Although the House version of the PEPFAR legislation does not include the travel and immigration provision, some advocates have said that it will be included in the final version that is sent to Bush (Abrams, AP/Google.com, 7/16).

Measure To Include Provisions for American Indians
The PEPFAR reauthorization measure also is expected to include an amendment that would allocate $2 billion for American Indians, according to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). The amendment would include $1 billion for water projects on American Indian reservations, $750 million for tribal law enforcement and $250 million for American Indian health care services. Under the provision, the money would be added to the PEPFAR bill with no objections and no roll call vote. Thune said, “While I applaud U.S. leadership when it comes to combating HIV/AIDS overseas, my amendment seeks to ensure that we don’t turn our backs on some of the most critical issues here at home (Jalonick, AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 7/15).

The Senate also is scheduled to consider an amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would create an inspector general for PEPFAR, as well as another amendment by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that would establish a similar role for the Global Fund (CQ Today, 7/15).

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~ by h.e.g. on July 16, 2008.

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