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Super Committee Republicans Could Jeopardize AIDS Programs

By Julie Turkewitz

August 11, 2011

From top left: Republicans Kyl, Portman, Toomey, Upton, Hensarling and Camp.

From top left: Republicans Kyl, Portman, Toomey, Upton, Hensarling and Camp.

Congress has just finalized the roster for the super committee -- the group of lawmakers charged with charting much of the country's fiscal future -- meaning it's time to examine how the committee's decisions could shape AIDS programs in the U.S.

So far, we know this: The committee includes two of the most fiscally conservative Republicans in Congress, Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Jeb Hensarling. It also includes Sen. Jon Kyl, one of just three senators to vote against the Ryan White CARE Reauthorization Act in 1995, legislation that extended funds for people with HIV/AIDS and their families.

"[The committee's] decisions could have a profound impact on our programming for years to come," said Ronald Johnson, vice president for policy and advocacy at AIDS United. "If deficit reduction is completely made up of spending cuts, that increases the possibility that there will be less money available for HIV-related programs, health care, and the safety net as a whole."

The 12-person committee is charged with trimming the country's deficit by $1.5 trillion during the next decade. The group will have few limits as to what it can do to reduce the deficit, meaning changes and cuts to programs critical to people living with HIV/AIDS will be on the table.

It's unlikely that the committee will demand a reduction to a specific program like the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Instead, larger decisions -- like a cap on non-discretionary funding -- would shrink the pool of money available to all programs, including money for ADAP, the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program, and the Ryan White program.

The committee can also make alterations to structure and funding for Medicaid and Medicare, and any changes will affect the growing number of people living with HIV/AIDS who depend them.

"The Democrats that have been named are defenders of our programs," said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director at the AIDS Institute in Washington, D.C. "[Sen. Max] Baucus, [Sen. John] Kerry, and [Sen. Patty] Murray have all stood up for low-income people. But the Republicans that have been selected are all fiscal conservatives."

Several Republican committee members, including Toomey and Henserlang, have already said they will focus on reducing the deficit by making deep cuts -- instead of exploring new revenue options.

"I want to see people who are going to defend the safety net, who realize that balancing the budget on the backs of poor people is not going to be a successful strategy," said Christine Campbell, Housing Works' vice president of national advocacy and organizing. "And when these 12 look at Medicaid and Medicare, it's got to be from the perspective of reform and not just cuts."


The Super Committee

Republicans

Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan
Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan
Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio

Democrats

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland
Rep. Xavier Becerra of California
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts

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