DeMint Breaks Senate Agreement on PEPFAR Debate

Scott Swenson

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) took advantage of leverage far-right negotiators acquired as PEPFAR negotiations have been mishandled, and violated Senate protocol to push his ideological misinformation about abortion.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) late today broke with Senate agreements that limited amendments and issues to be discussed during the Senate debate on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The issue DeMint violated protocol for? Abortion — which as we’ve written on this site since March, has absolutely nothing to do with PEPFAR.

But the issue has very effectively cowed the Democratic majority and some AIDS advocates who have ignored everything they know to be true on the ground in PEPFAR countries, and about public health, in order to get more money. Even if it means accpeting legislation they know will be less effective in slowing the spread of HIV.

Listening to DeMint speak on the Senate floor would have easily led casual observers to believe that PEPFAR was really about supporting China’s One Child Policy, something we have written in opposition to on this site.

DeMint is attempting to apply Kemp-Kasten to the PEPFAR funds that go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Kemp-Kasten is a law that prohibits foreign aid funding for any organization that,
as determined by the President
, “supports or participates in the
management of a program of coercive abortion of involuntary sterilization.”

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The Global Fund limits its spending to fighting the three diseases in its name and has never spent one penny of its funding on abortion, regardless of which country the money comes from. Audits
conducted by the Global Fund, including yearly audits by the U.S. Government
Accountability Office, have never reported any links between the Global
Fund and abortion services in recipient countries, according to a memo released by the Global Fund and obtained by Rewire.

Throughout the process of reauthorization, Rewire has repeatedly urged negotiators not to accept the political frames placed on PEPFAR by the far-right. Our expert writers have detailed modest changes to the reauthorization that would improve prevention efforts by dealing honestly with issues of sexual transmission and reprodcutive health. We’ve encouraged Democrats to stand up for imperical evidence and experience from PEPFAR’s first five years, in the face of moralizing and ideology from the far-right minority.

Negotiators have ignored these pleas from public health experts writing with us, and have continually trusted negotiators from the far-right to act in good faith, selling out public health strategies for increased dollars.

The negotiations have been so successful that a bill that completely removed failed abstinecne-only provisions at the outset, has seen those provisions not only added back in, but increased from 33 percent to 50 percent, with new onerous reporting requirements to Congress. These negotiations have failed to address many improvements in PEPFAR as outlined by the World Health Organization, Institutes of Medicine or General Accounting Office.

In fact, the only thing that has happened during the negotiations on Capitol Hill is that the bill has slowly become more ideological, and thus, based on the evidence from the first five years, potentially less effective. Now, even the very tenuous agreements between lead negotiators on both sides have been violated, shockingly, by the very people the sexual and reproductive health community suggested from the start would not negotiate in good faith. Democrats in Congress seem disappointed, surprised even, as they now scramble for a strategy to finish work on the bill this week and prevent more damage being done by ideologues. In truth, they just want this bill off their plate, given the housing and energy crises crashing down around them.

More amendments will be considered throughout the day on Tuesday, and there is no assurance from whip offices of reliable vote counts on many of them.

While there are parliamentary strategies that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will use to prevent the most egregious of the amendments from passing, the fact of the matter is that these negotiations have been mishandled from the start by giving too much ground to far-right ideologues. The right-wing ideologues have taken a good bill crafted with the leadership of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) before he died, made it worse, and are using the leverage negotiators have given them throughout the process to shape the bill in their image.

The majority party remains silent and ineffective, while some AIDS advocates are chilling champagne and picking out (RED) colored glasses to wear to the Rose Garden Ceremony, seemingly unconcerned about ineffective abstinence-only requirements, the need for women to obtain HIV and reproductive health services in the same location, and the fact that PEPFAR is becoming even less helpful to marginalized populations, something many observers didn’t think was possible.




News Sexual Health

Congress Fails to Act on Zika Before Seven-Week Recess

Christine Grimaldi

There was no last-minute deal on funding to address the Zika virus, even in the middle of mosquito season.

In the midst of summer mosquito season, the U.S. Congress is set to recess until September without taking action on the Zika virus.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate Thursday again blocked Republicans’ proposal for $1.1 billion in funding for the mosquito-borne virus linked to microcephaly and other fetal brain defects. The GOP-engineered agreement falls short of the $1.9 billion that the Obama administration staunchly contends is needed to combat Zika. The Senate plan also restricts what advocates consider to be essential contraceptive access, even though the virus can be sexually transmitted.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue condemned Senate Republicans for their response to Zika.

“Instead of digging deep to adequately respond to this global health threat, anti-choice Republicans are trying to restrict funding for the very clinics and health care that allow women to plan for healthy families,” she said in a statement. “Their constant claim that they are dedicated to ‘protecting the unborn’ falls flat when they refuse to give women the resources we need to bear healthy children.”

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The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives previously passed even less Zika funding—$622.1 million. House Republicans made a separate attempt to limit contraceptive access through gutting Title X in the appropriations process. “It is particularly foolish to target Title X at a time when the nation is at the precipice of a public health emergency resulting from the Zika virus,” National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association President and CEO Clare Coleman said in a statement at the time.

Republicans insisted that their various plans protected women’s health, contrary to Democrats’ characterization of the plans as attacks on the same. Partisan bickering aside, Congress failed to strike a last-minute deal before a seven-week recess as Zika cases are already on the rise.

As of July 7, nine infants with Zika-related birth defects had been born in the continental United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As many as 346 pregnant people in the United States and 303 in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, may have the Zika virus, the CDC found.

News Politics

Senate Democrats Object to Contraception Limits in Blocking GOP Zika Agreement

Christine Grimaldi

“Republicans don’t want to treat Zika as an emergency and they don’t want to expand access to birth control," Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said in a statement. "It begs the question: Will they be willing to pay the costs associated with every child born in this country with Zika-related birth defects?”

Democrats in the U.S. Senate Tuesday temporarily blocked a $1.1 billion GOP-engineered agreement to combat the Zika virus amid objections to the strings attached, including restrictions on contraceptive access.

Their Republican counterparts needed 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a vote on the measure. The 52-48 vote fell short of that threshold.

The Zika aid is part of a sweeping conference report (H. Rept. 114-640) that also provides fiscal year 2017 military construction and veterans affairs funding. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the conference report last week in a largely party-line vote with few Democrats on board. Prior to the vote, Democrats involved in negotiations had refused to sign off on the plan, which would limit contraceptive services in the United States and Puerto Rico and falls short of the Obama administration’s $1.9 billion request for emergency supplemental Zika funding.

As Rewire reported last week, the Republican agreement limits women to obtaining contraceptive services from public health departments, hospitals, and Medicaid Managed Care clinics. This could prove particularly challenging for women in Puerto Rico, a sprawling territory with few such options. Republicans would also prohibit subgrants to outside groups “that could provide important services to hard-to-reach populations, especially hard-to-reach populations of women that want to access contraceptive services,” according to a Democratic summary.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor to argue that the Republican agreement actually provides “more resources for women’s health services” through the three options.

“It’s really puzzling to hear Democrats claim to be advocates for women[’s] health measures when they are the ones trying to block the Zika legislation and its critical resources to protect women’s health,” McConnell said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), however, criticized Republicans for effectively prohibiting contraceptive services between many women and their doctors or primary care clinics.

“I know the issue of birth control is difficult for some, but we know that Zika has terrible consequences for women and babies,” Mikulski said in a statement. “Republicans don’t want to treat Zika as an emergency and they don’t want to expand access to birth control. It begs the question: Will they be willing to pay the costs associated with every child born in this country with Zika-related birth defects?”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that Zika causes microcephaly, an incurable neurological disorder that impairs brain and skull growth in utero, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. Advocates have said the virus underscores the urgent need for better contraceptive access, particularly since Zika can be sexually transmitted.

Online requests for abortion medications have spiked in Latin American countries that issued warnings to pregnant people about Zika-related complications yet outlaw or restrict the health care, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine study.

A White House spokesperson June 23 said that President Barack Obama would veto the funding package in its current form. McConnell will attempt to bring up the Republican agreement after the Senate returns from its July 4 recess, according to a leadership spokesperson.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other party leaders in the chamber called for a new round of Zika talks.

“The conference report includes a restriction that would limit funding for providers of birth control services—a backdoor way of restricting care from women’s health providers like Planned Parenthood and family planning centers that would have serious consequences for women’s health,” they said in a letter to McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).