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As Lame Duck Budget Negotiations Move Forward, HIV Funding Hangs in the Balance

November 18, 2016

In the wake of election results that shocked politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington, the "lame duck" session of Congress began this week amidst a general air of uncertainty. The best-laid plans of Congressional staffers and advocacy groups anticipating a Clinton presidency have been unceremoniously chucked to the curb in recent days as Republicans and Democrats alike find themselves adjusting to a world in which Republicans will have control of The White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade. The implications of the GOP's unexpected electoral success have yet to become fully clear in the nation's capital, but the character and content of this lame duck session has begun to take shape, providing HIV/AIDS advocates with a better sense of what the budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 might look like and how to best ensure that the needs of people living with HIV are met in such a budget.

In addition to our work on the lame duck session, AIDS United is starting to plan for the anticipated actions of a Trump administration. Questions about the future direction of the Administration include the degree a Trump White House and a Republican-led Congress enact campaign promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to what extent they will seek to "replace it." Additionally, we plan to weigh in on President -elect Trump's key health appointments including Secretary of HHS, HRSA Administrator and the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP).

However, what we know about the future direction of the Federal government pales in comparison to all that we don't. In such an environment, HIV/AIDS advocates are best served by gathering intelligence, keeping up with the changes, and weighing in on areas that hold the most promise for being amenable to change from outside advocacy. Right now, the appropriations battle during the lame duck session of Congress is of utmost importance.

In these final days of the 114th Congress, the focus of Congressional action will be on wrapping up the $1.07 trillion Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 appropriations process before the 10 week Continuing Resolution (CR) that was passed at the end of September runs out on December 9th. There are a handful paths Congress could pursue to fund the government for the rest of FY17. None of them are perfect, but all have proponents both in and out of Congress. On one end of the spectrum is an approach that involves the creation of a catch-all omnibus-style appropriations package that would fund the government through the end of FY17 and set spending priorities for the first 8 months of President-elect Trump's first term. On the other end is a short-term Continuing Resolution that would only fund the government through March and would serve as a stopgap measure to enable the Trump administration to place their stamp on the Federal spending early on.

On Thursday, House Republicans came out in favor of a short-term CR after meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill that reflected mounting pressure from the Trump administration and the Freedom Caucus to keep legislative activity to a minimum during the lame duck session. With the support of House Republicans and the incoming administration, a short-term spending bill may lead to a funding showdown as we wrap up the year, but it is by no means a sure thing. Democrats are not giving up hope for an omnibus spending bill that would enable the Obama administration to leave their final mark on Federal spending through September of next year and Republican leaders in the Senate have expressed concern at the prospect of kicking the can down the road into April.

For our part, AIDS United remains fully supportive of a year-end catchall omnibus bill that might provide the opportunity to allocate additional funds to benefit people living with HIV. Of the 11 bills that would be contained in any potential omnibus legislation, the Labor, Health & Human Services Bill contains the majority of HIV/AIDS programs including the Ryan White Program, prevention funding through the Centers for Disease Control, and Prevention and Research funding through the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, the Transportation, Housing & Urban Development Bill that would be rolled into an omnibus will determine critical funding for the HOPWA program.

It is critical that HIV/AIDS advocates take the opportunity provided in this lame duck session to highlight the importance of protecting programs serving people living with HIV/AIDS. Join us in telling Congress that it cannot and must not make cuts to HIV programs when deciding on funding for the rest of the fiscal year.

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This article was provided by AIDS United. Visit AIDS United's website to find out more about their activities and publications.

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