Key Senate leaders for global health in the 112th Congress

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The Senate will be crucial in the coming weeks as it considers the massive cuts in global health spending for fiscal year (FY) 2011, which the House is poised to pass late Friday. The Senate will also be the key to any effort to increase or even protect current funding for global health programs in FY 2012.  Congress will be turning its attention to the 2012 budget after they finally complete work on the budget for the current fiscal year.  There are modest increases proposed by President Obama for bilateral HIV and TB and a substantial increase proposed for the Global Fund. Securing even modest increases will require ownership and advocacy on the part of key senators—from both sides of the aisle. 

There are several members especially worth watching as this process unfolds, including some who are new to the Senate.  Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are new members who have joined the key subcommittee in the Senate that decides funding levels for most global health program, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.  Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) is new to the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been named the Ranking Member of that subcommittee and will take the lead for the Republicans in making such decisions.  

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is new to the Congress and is heading up the key authorizing subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with jurisdiction over African affairs.  He brings personal experience in Kenya and South Africa to the position. 

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)  

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)

Sen. Blunt, the new junior senator from Missouri, is a new member of the Senate Appropriations Committee with a seat on the State-Foreign Operations funding subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over global health.  Blunt is hardly new to the Congress, as he served in the House of Representatives from 1997-2011. He served briefly on the House International Relations Committee and did a stint as House Minority Whip—the second highest leadership position in the House.  

Blunt is a staunch conservative on both fiscal and social issues.  As a House member, he represented the most conservative district in Missouri.  Blunt assumed the seat vacated by Sen. Kit Bond who had an interest in global health and development issues and also served as a member of the funding committee with authority over foreign assistance.  Blunt voted against the Lantos-Hyde United States Global Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act as a House member.  He also voted to oppose funding for international family planning programs.  He supports a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL)  

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL)

Sen. Mark Kirk is the new junior Senator from Illinois after winning Barack Obama’s vacated seat in a tight race in 2010.  Kirk is a new member of the Senate Appropriations Committee with a seat on the important State-Foreign Operations funding subcommittee, with jurisdiction over the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. Agency for International Development and a portion of funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.  Kirk has also scored a seat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has jurisdiction over the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Kirk assumes this seat after nearly 10 years of service in the House of Representatives, but his congressional service stretches much further back.  Kirk served on the staff of Rep. John Porter (R-IL) in the mid-1980s and ultimately became his chief of staff.  Porter is perhaps best known for his unflagging support for the mission and funding of the NIH, presiding over a doubling of NIH funding during his tenure. In the early 1990s, Kirk was named special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter- American Affairs where he focused primarily on Central America.  In 1995, he was appointed legal counsel to the House International Relations Committee where he served in that post until he successfully ran for John Porter’s seat in 2000.   

In 2008, as a member of the House of Representatives, Kirk voted in support of the Lantos-Hyde United States Global Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria bill.  Kirk is viewed as a centrist Republican with a strong pro-choice and pro-Israel voting record. He is a fiscal conservative who opposed President Obama’s economic stimulus package and has frequently supported tax cuts, including complete elimination of the estate tax.  

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)  

Sen. Lindey Graham (R-SC)

Sen. Graham, the state’s senior senator, has served since 2003 after an eight-year stint in the House of Representatives. He is a new member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, but given his overall seniority, he will serve as the ranking minority member of the State Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.  This subcommittee has jurisdiction over funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and a portion of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.  Graham will also serve on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies with its jurisdiction over funding for the National Institutes of Health, including a portion of the Global Fund funding and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.  

Sen. Graham is a staunch political conservative, but he has also been known to challenge conservative positions.  For instance, he has joined with democrats to support climate change legislation and immigration reform.   

Sen. Graham has also been explicit in viewing U.S. foreign assistance as a critical component of the nation’s national security strategy. He has been openly critical of proposals by some of his Republican colleagues to cut foreign aid to Egypt and to Israel. The clearest expression of his views on foreign assistance to date comes in a blog post from Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy.  Sen. Graham describes State Department and USAID funding to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan as “national security insurance.”  But Graham went further than to commit to supporting foreign aid for U.S. military hotspots and pledged to be an advocate for diplomatic and development activities, including global health programs, in areas around the world.    

Global health advocates will be watching Sen. Graham’s actions closely over the next year, beginning next week with the release of President Obama’s budget and congressional activity to finalize spending levels for federal fiscal year 2011 that has been funded under stopgap measures since Oct. 1, 2010, when the fiscal year began.  Many in the global health advocacy community worry that foreign assistance including global health will be an easy target for deficit-focused legislators, and they look forward to Sen. Graham’s defense of these programs.  

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)  

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)

How many senators can boast of speaking fluent Swahili?  Sen. Chris Coons can, having studied in Kenya while an undergraduate and having worked there in relief projects.  He also worked as a volunteer for the South African Council of Churches.  He has joined the Foreign Relations Committee as the head of the Africa Subcommittee, and advocates for health in Africa are looking forward to his chairmanship of this important authorizing subcommittee.  

Sen. Coons earned his JD from Yale Law School in 1992, and a master’s degree in ethics from Yale Divinity School.  His first elected office was president of the New Castle County Council, elected in 2000.  Coons was sworn in as a senator on Nov. 15, 2010. He succeeded appointed-Senator and former Biden aide Ted Kaufman. His current term will expire in 2015.  

According to a posting by the One Campaign, Coons has ties with high-ranking politicians in Kenya that he met during his undergraduate studies at Amherst and at the University of Nairobi. He supports debt relief and fair trade, and believes that aid needs to be restructured and focused strategically.

3 thoughts on “Key Senate leaders for global health in the 112th Congress

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