New Presidential Administration Presents New Challenges
The inauguration of George W. Bush as President has created anxiety and uncertainty among HIV/AIDS advocates. For the first time in eight years, we have a new President and Administration. This change brings many unknowns and some definite challenges.
President Bush said little during his campaign about HIV/AIDS, and does not have much of a record on the issue as governor of Texas. However, as governor, his actions on healthcare do raise concerns. In addition, one of the first actions from the Bush administration was a renewal of the ban on funding for international organizations engaging in family planning. This is a serious and troubling indicator of the Bush Administration's approach to health policy.
President Bush did make a few statements on HIV/AIDS issues as a candidate. He has "promised to do his part" to fight AIDS. He has proposed doubling the National Institutes of Health's budget, which should increase AIDS research activities proportionately, and he is on record as supporting the Ryan White CARE Act.
In a letter to Numedx, a quarterly HIV medical journal, Bush stated his support for a "permanent extension of the research and development tax credit for pharmaceutical companies that are currently conducting research and development on drugs to combat AIDS." In that same letter, Bush stated that he supports increased funding to sub-Saharan Africa to fight HIV, with unspecified safeguards to ensure that U.S. money is actually being spent on those in need. He also pledged his support for medical privacy legislation.
However, while Bush has indicated his support for HIV prevention programs, he is on record opposing needle exchange programs. He has also pledged that he will make funding for abstinence education a priority.
President Bush's choices for his Cabinet send more mixed messages about his commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS. He appointed Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson as Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to many advocates in Wisconsin, Governor Thompson has demonstrated a strong commitment on HIV/AIDS issues. He has ensured adequate funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and supported Wisconsin's Medicaid program. In addition, he has sought a federal waiver to expand Medicaid eligibility to include people living with HIV. This leadership may help with efforts to pass a Medicaid expansion bill for people living with HIV at the federal level.
However, Bush's nomination of former Missouri Senator John Ashcroft as Attorney General is very troubling. Project Inform opposed this nomination based on Senator Ashcroft's abysmal voting record on HIV/AIDS issues.
In addition to the change in administrations, there has also been a fairly dramatic change in the makeup of Congress, especially in the U.S. Senate where there are fifty Republicans and fifty Democrats. Vice President Cheney will break any ties that occur in the Senate.
It is unknown what specific challenges lie ahead as a result of this change but individual Senators and Representatives may find themselves with more power to push forward legislative and budget issues. We must work to make sure the government's response to the epidemic remains a priority for both the new Administration and Congress.
Many people have noted the increased importance of individuals and grassroots organizing in today's political environment. You can play a key role by joining Project Inform's Treatment Action Network (TAN). TAN members respond to Action Alerts and communicate with elected and administrative officials about legislative and funding issues that affect them and people they care about. Legislators need to know how their actions and votes affect the people they represent. We will provide all the information and guidance needed to help you prepare your message to your legislators. If you would like to join TAN and make your voice heard in this new environment, call Project Inform's toll-free hotline at 1-800-822-7422 and ask for a TAN membership form, or email your name and contact information to email@example.com.
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