This is an update to our post earlier this morning on two key HIV policy votes in the House today.
So much for a new era of evidence-based AIDS policy in a Congress controlled by Democrats. In today’s vote on HIV/AIDS research, lawmakers agreed (by voice vote) to strip out funding for three HIV research grants, apparently because they involved examining the role of substance abuse and sexual behavior in HIV transmission. Never mind that physician-scientists say understanding the risk factors posed by prostitution and illicit drug use are vital to controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
In a second pivotal House vote today, HIV/AIDS advocates won, sort of, when an amendment to reinstate the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs was narrowly defeated.
It was only “sort of” a win because the language that was preserved by today’s vote is pretty muddy to begin with. Instead of a clear repeal of the ban, as Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., originally proposed, the langauge was significantly watered down to say that no needle exchange programs could be funded within 1,000 feet of certain locations, such as schools, arcades, etc.
Obey inserted that weaker language, even as he reportedly acknowledged that it is probably unworkable. He has said he would work toward an alternative as this bill moves forward.
Both these provisions were included in a massive spending bill to fund domestic health, labor, and education programs. The fight will likely now move to the Senate and then a conference committee, where the two chambers will work out any differences in their competing versions of the spending bill.
Advocates will be working to restore the HIV research money and press for a full repeal of the needle-exchange ban.