Holding the purse strings: new leaders’ global health stances run from strong to steady support

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“WE CAN BE FRUGAL WITHOUT BEING HEARTLESS,” MIKULSKI SAYS

New leadership will guide the Senate Appropriations Committee, as it oversees how a likely dwindling pool of federal dollars are disbursed, and the Senate Budget Committee, as it oversees allotment of available amounts. With chairs hailing from two states that serve as headquarters to global health agenda setters, and a ranking Republican who was one of eight senators to vote against the “Fiscal Cliff” deal, but who has steadily supported PEPFAR, global health advocates may expect mixed signals from Capitol Hill.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md), the first woman to head the Senate Appropriations Committee, and, with more than a quarter of a century in the Senate, the longest serving woman in its history, began her career as a social worker. Representing the state that is home to the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University, she has been lauded for her strong support for medical research and public health and has spoken of the impact of the AIDS epidemic on her state, recalling its early days. A senior member of the Senate Health Education Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, her stewardship of issues pertinent to global health also includes service on the Appropriations subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, as well as on the Subcommittee on Labor Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.

Sen. Patty Murray(D – Wa), whose jurisdiction is home to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, heads the Senate Budget Committee after two decades in the Senate. She has been lauded for her advocacy across issues that include health and women’s equity , and, as co-chair of the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee, she called on organizations to submit letters in support of the International Affairs budget. A former teacher, she served on her school district board, and then the  Washington State Senate, before coming to the U.S. Senate. Seats on the Senate HELP Committee, and the Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human services and Education Subcommittee, are among her committee assignments.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R- Al) is the new lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee after 25 years in the Senate. As “a good friend and colleague,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski says, he is one of the first people she called when she gained the top seat on the committee, and he promised his support for bipartisan cooperation. The former Democrat and fiscal conservative, who switched parties in the mid-1990s, has voted both within and outside party lines. When he gained the lead spot for his party on the committee he welcomed the opportunity to protect programs important to his state, and when rejecting the deal that backed away from the precipice, for the time being, of the “Fiscal Cliff,” he warned that spending would put the United States “down the road that Europe’s already on.” He also serves as ranking member on the Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. He came to Congress as a former prosecutor, magistrate, assistant Attorney General, and Alabama State Senator, and joined the Senate after eight years in the House of Representatives.

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