House and Senate Republicans are working on a last-ditch effort to save a global HIV-AIDS program set to expire Sept. 30 — defying influential anti-abortion and conservative groups that are lobbying against its renewal.
Rep. Michael McCaul
The head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a representative from Texas, is in charge of overseeing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. According to POLITICO, he is currently developing a bill to prolong the program, but it may not meet the usual five-year extension and could contain additional language to appease anti-abortion organizations.
McCaul shared that he recently had a meal in Kennebunkport, Maine with former President George W. Bush and their two spouses, where they talked about the future of the law. According to congressional staff and advocates for the law, also known as PEPFAR, this is a result of the 43rd president’s efforts to protect the program he played a role in establishing in 2003, which has been instrumental in saving 25 million lives.
McCaul stated on Tuesday that Bush is seeking to enter at the appropriate moment, as this is one of his most significant legacies.
The ex-president wrote an opinion piece on Wednesday urging Congress to extend PEPFAR for an additional five years without delay. He stated that not doing so would be a disgrace to the nation.
The fact that Bush has joined the fight highlights the increasing worry from members of both political parties that PEPFAR, a program that has received strong bipartisan backing for 20 years, may be impacted by debates over abortion.
The reauthorization of the program is facing challenges as certain Republicans and conservative groups accuse it of directing some of its $7 billion yearly budget towards abortion providers. However, both Bush and President Biden’s administration, as well as program leaders and experts, refute these claims.
A health advocate who is knowledgeable about the attempt to renew the law, but not allowed to speak publicly, stated that the previous president has also made discreet contact with other Republican members.
A high-ranking Democratic aide in the Senate who is involved in the negotiations stated that Bush’s efforts on PEPFAR were prompted by “numerous requests from both past and present members of Congress and religious leaders to become involved.”
The previous president did not reply to a comment request.
Supporters and representatives of Bush have also come together to support the cause. David Kramer, the leader of the George W. Bush Institute, recently referred to Congressman as…Chris Smith
(R-NJ) is known as Congress’ most outspoken critic of renewing PEPFAR.
Smith stated that Kramer did not alter his opinion and retorted to Kramer by asking, “Why isn’t Bush reaching out to Biden and requesting him to cease taking over his honorable program?”
A representative from the George W. Bush Institute informed POLITICO that they have no further comments to make.
Sen. is approaching the deadline of PEPFAR’s authorization in just two weeks.Lindsey GrahamBob Menendez
Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and the leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a bill to reauthorize for three years.
“I have found this program to be effective,” Graham stated on Tuesday. “I am open to making modifications if they prove to be beneficial, but my main goal is to have it renewed.”
Although the program will receive funding even if it is not reauthorized by the end of the month, advocates argue that without a long-term commitment, organizations working to combat HIV and AIDS globally will face difficulties in hiring staff and initiating long-term initiatives.
The worry has ignited a campaign of persuasion, with numerous ex-Republican legislators joining the action.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, a key figure in the creation of PEPFAR twenty years ago, has joined former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in urging lawmakers to find a solution that will secure ongoing funding for PEPFAR.
“He stated that this is one of the rare instances of a bipartisan program within a policy area that is filled with discord and suspicion.”
These ex-Republican leaders, who were strongly against abortion during their time in government, are going against the desires of powerful anti-abortion and conservative organizations. These groups have insisted that Congress should not renew PEPFAR unless strict limitations are put in place to prevent organizations receiving U.S. funds from using other sources to offer abortions or talk about them.
Various organizations, such as Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and the Heritage Foundation, have aligned with Congressional Republicans, under the leadership of Smith, to resist the typical five-year renewal of PEPFAR and advocate for a short-term funding solution of one year.
Smith also stated that he has personally advocated to House and Senate Republicans and intends to oppose McCaul’s efforts to renew the authorization.
According to him, approving a renewal for either three or five years would essentially approve all the drastic changes made by President Biden. He stated that they are prepared to resist this.
In response to this accusation, Bush stated on Wednesday that although there are some within his party who are raising concerns about the current administration’s handling of PEPFAR and its alignment with pro-life values, he believes that there is no other program that is more supportive of the pro-life cause.
Not renewing PEPFAR would prevent Congress from raising the program’s current budget of almost $7 billion per year and could cancel certain legal stipulations, such as the requirement to allocate at least half of the funds towards patient treatment and care. Future administrations may choose to follow or disregard these rules.
2020 foreign aid bill
The Appropriations Committee of the House has given approval for a temporary one-year funding solution for PEPFAR during the summer, which includes additional limitations on abortion, as a component of the 2020 foreign aid legislation.State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs funding bill
The fiscal year of 2024 is the target for this bill. However, it has not been voted on yet and is not expected to be passed as Democrats are against the inclusion of PEPFAR, other anti-abortion measures, and significant reductions in foreign aid programs.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
The sponsor of the bill, (R-Fla.), stated that he sees it as a final option for PEPFAR and would prefer a renewal.
In an interview, he expressed the desire for the authorizers to successfully complete the task so that it does not need to be repeated every year.
McCaul stated that he is actively seeking a compromise with anti-abortion organizations in regards to including measures in the PEPFAR bill that uphold the Helms Amendment. This amendment prohibits the allocation of U.S. foreign aid for the purpose of abortion as a form of family planning.
“If the external organizations are agreeable to this type of compromise, then I believe we will be in a favorable position to make progress,” stated McCaul. “There is a significant amount of drive from the Republican party, but it will not be a simple task.”
McCaul stated that the reauthorization’s format in the House is uncertain, but it may be included in a continuing resolution for government funding.
As the deadline of Sept. 30 approaches, advocates for HIV and PEPFAR are holding demonstrations on Capitol Hill aimed at Republican leaders. They are cautioning that if the program is not renewed, it would indicate a decline in U.S. commitment to the worldwide battle against HIV. This comes at a critical time as the Covid-19 pandemic has set back progress against HIV and AIDS in certain areas, resulting in a surge of new infections.