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Policy & Politics
Sen. Reid Sets Tuesday Deadline for Agreement on PEPFAR Reauthorization Legislation

June 20, 2008

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has set a Tuesday deadline for negotiators to come to an agreement on measures (HR 5501, S 2731) that would reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the AP/ reports. In a statement released on Thursday, Reid said it is "confounding and indefensible" that seven Republican senators, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), are blocking a vote. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the committee's ranking member, are working on a compromise, according to Reid (Abrams, AP/, 6/19). Coburn on Thursday said that he did not want to comment on the issue because negotiations were still ongoing with the White House (Reilly, The Politico/CBS News, 6/19).

The Senate version of the PEPFAR reauthorization bill passed the Foreign Relations Committee in March, and the House version was approved 308-116 in April. Both the Senate and House versions of the bill would reauthorize PEPFAR at $50 billion over five years. However, Coburn and six other Republican senators are blocking the legislation because they are opposed to the legislation's cost and "mission creep" into health and development efforts. In addition, they want language inserted into the measure that would guarantee that 55% of PEPFAR funding goes toward treatment, including antiretroviral drugs. Some advocates have said that they would agree to the treatment language but that efforts to compromise with Coburn have been ineffective (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/19).

"There is no question that PEPFAR has been the most successful foreign aid program since the Marshall Plan," Coburn said during a recent speech. He also has said that without the funding provision for treatment programs, money could be diverted into unrelated development and poverty programs. Coburn added, "Will we turn PEPFAR into just another bloated, unmeasured and unmeasurable foreign aid program with no accountability and no real impact?" Some other conservative lawmakers also are concerned that funds will go toward "politically sensitive" programs -- including the "distribution of condoms, male circumcision or family planning" -- the AP/ reports.

Coburn and supporters of the block face "heavyweight" opponents who support passage of the reauthorization legislation, the AP/ reports. Presumptive presidential nominees Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are both co-sponsors of the Senate bill. Obama recently said, "Today an estimated 40 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS, with over four million new infections in 2006 alone." He added, "I urge my colleagues to bring this important bill to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as possible." In addition, 14 Republican senators, led by Lugar, last month wrote Senate leaders urging quick consideration of the bill. They wrote that PEPFAR "has served as a powerful demonstration of U.S. leadership and compassion throughout the world." Lugar has stressed the need to act before President Bush goes to the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations next month in Hokkaido, Japan (AP/ 6/19).

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