October 6, 2011 at 10:32 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
House GOP bill slashes funds for CDC AIDS unit

The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee released a draft fiscal year 2012 budget bill on Sept. 19 that calls for cutting nearly $33 million in funds from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s office that pays for HIV prevention programs throughout the country, including in D.C.

The draft bill, introduced by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), also includes a provision that would ban federal funding for needle exchange programs aimed at curtailing the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users. Rehberg is chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, which oversees funding for AIDS programs.

In a development likely to rile gay rights and AIDS activists, the bill would restore federal funds for controversial “abstinence only until marriage” HIV prevention programs that gained support under the administration of President George W. Bush. The Obama administration eliminated the abstinence-only funding.

An appropriations subcommittee in the Democratic-controlled Senate approved a separate budget bill that doesn’t include needle exchange and abstinence-only provisions included in the GOP House bill.

The bill approved by the Senate subcommittee calls for no funding increases in most AIDS-related programs. The Obama administration’s proposed budget calls for slightly higher funding levels for most HIV/AIDS programs.

House and Senate leaders are expected to clash over a compromise funding bill dealing with HIV/AIDS programs along with other health, labor and education programs that are folded into the fiscal year 2012 appropriations measure.

Rep. Rosa Delauro (D-Conn.), the ranking Democratic member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies, issued a statement criticizing her GOP counterparts for backing Rehberg’s bill without bringing the bill to a vote in either the subcommittee or the full appropriations committee.

“I am very concerned by reports that the chairman has no plans to convene a meeting of our subcommittee to consider and mark up this legislation,” Delauro said.

She said the Rehberg bill calls for cuts in a wide range of health, labor and education programs that go beyond the spending cap that the House and Senate agreed to as part of the highly contentious debate over the bill earlier this year raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

The Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress eliminated federal funding for abstinence only HIV prevention programs, saying evidence-based studies showed that they were ineffective in curtailing the spread of HIV.

Obama and the Democratic Congress also lifted a longstanding congressional ban on federal funds for needle exchange programs. Administration officials pointed to studies showing that providing clean syringes to intravenous drug abusers reduced their HIV infection rate. Officials said the studies also showed that clean needle exchanges did not result in more people becoming IV drug users.

With Republicans winning control of the House in the 2010 election, advocates of abstinence only HIV prevention programs vowed to push for restoring federal funding for the programs. Some of the same advocates also pushed for restoring the congressional ban on needle exchange programs.

The House GOP appropriations measure also calls for no increase in funding for any of the programs under the Ryan White AIDS CARE Act, including the financially struggling AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP.

With more than 8,500 people in nine states on waiting lists for life-saving AIDS drugs funded under ADAP, AIDS advocacy groups have declared the program in crisis, saying people with HIV could die if more federal funds aren’t allocated to the program.

“While we realize we are living in very difficult fiscal times, this bill is not just about making difficult funding decisions, but about resurrecting many controversial policies that will never pass the Congress nor be signed by the president,” said Michael Ruppal, executive director of the AIDS Institute, a national AIDS advocacy group.

President Obama’s budget proposes a $63.9 million increase in the overall Ryan White budget. The Senate appropriation subcommittee approved a $15 million increase for the Ryan White program.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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