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.




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