The Human Rights Campaign is becoming active in the effort to avert the “fiscal cliff” crisis following a White House meeting President Obama convened with the LGBT organization and other civic groups.
Last week, HRC launched a campaign highlighting how the LGBT community would be negatively affected by the upcoming “fiscal cliff” — a colloquial term used for the time when various tax cuts would expire and massive budget cuts would befall U.S. government programs under the Budget Control Act.
HRC details several reasons why sequestration under the Budget Control Act — legislation signed by Obama as part of a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling — would be detrimental unless Congress agrees to an alternate plan.
Among the issues affecting LGBT people cited by HRC:
• nearly 10,000 low-income people will lose access to life-saving medicines under AIDS Drug Assistance Programs;
• hundreds of millions of dollars will be taken from federal programs providing treatment and housing to people with HIV/AIDS;
• cuts could interfere with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, including those against LGBT people;
• and funds for long-sought programs like the National LGBT Aging Resource Center and the LGBT Refugee Resource Center could be reduced — if not cut entirely.
In addition to pledging to inform its members about the consequences of the “fiscal cliff” through blog posts and social media, HRC has an online letter that supporters can sign to ask their representatives in Congress to come to an agreement.
But the “fiscal cliff” is about more than just the sequester. At the same time that these budget cuts are instituted, tax cuts signed into law by former President George W. Bush will expire as well as payroll tax cuts extended last year. President Obama campaigned on allowing the high-end tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year to expire as a means of generating more revenue to reduce the deficit.
The Washington Blade reported in October that doing nothing about the “fiscal cliff” could result in devastating cuts for HIV/AIDS programs and other federally funded initiatives affecting the LGBT community. According to a report from the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, as many as 12,219 people receiving drugs from ADAP would lose access to medicine.
Chad Griffin, HRC’s president, underscored the importance of coming together around a plan — a not-so-easy task considering different parties control each chamber of Congress.
“Programs designed to serve the most vulnerable Americans, including LGBT people, are on the brink of annihilation if Congress doesn’t get its act together,” Griffin said. “Sequestration would take away vital lifelines that so many in our community rely on to get by — many even to live.”
The announcement from HRC about its new campaign came on the same day Griffin took part in a White House meeting on the “fiscal cliff” with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as part of a group of 13 civic leaders. Others set to attend were Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP; and Rev. Al Sharpton.
Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, said LGBT issues unrelated to the “fiscal cliff” were not brought up by Griffin.
“The president convened the various heads of organizations … and during that meeting, obviously, there was a discussion by the president and folks that were there about the implications of the road ahead on the communities affected,” Sainz said.
The discussion took place after another bipartisan meeting earlier in the day with Obama, Biden and congressional leaders: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
It’s not the first time HRC has launched a campaign for an initiative that has broader implications beyond the LGBT community. But Sainz said each position the organization takes is in some way related to LGBT issues.
For example, HRC has a pro-choice position because the right to privacy affects LGBT legal issues and it supports the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would streamline the unionization process, because it would allow for collective bargaining to ensure protections for LGBT employees.
HRC has also supported the health care reform law. Components of that measure specifically impact the LGBT community, such as non-discrimination protections in health care and allowing data collection in federal health surveys for the LGBT community.
“There is always an LGBT component when we weigh in on any initiative — though it might not be as obvious or direct as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, etc.,” Sainz said.
Richard Grenell, a gay conservative pundit who briefly served as a spokesperson for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, nonetheless said the “fiscal cliff” initiative demonstrates Griffin is taking HRC away from its intended mission.
“The revelation that HRC is working with some of the country’s most vocal tax and spend advocates to help the White House raise taxes is clearly a decision by Chad to move HRC from a gay civil rights organization to a broadly liberal activist one,” Grenell said. “It may be exactly what the board brought Chad in to do, but aligning gay rights with a partisan agenda relegates our issues to further partisan games.”