As subcommittee approves bill maintaining FY 15 HIV, TB support, exceeding White House request, Democrats chafe at budget restrictions, family planning caps, “global gag rule” reinstatement
House Appropriations Committee State and Foreign Operations subcommittee members from both sides of the aisle today reiterated their support for global health and emphasized they had rejected cuts to HIV and tuberculosis proposed by the Obama administration as they met today to vote on the spending bill released Tuesday for fiscal year 2016. Their common support for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria reaffirmed the bipartisan nature of American investment in those responses, House Democrat and Republican subcommittee members noted in remarks on the bill this morning.
In a year of House budget resolution-imposed restrictions that subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey said “has placed the committee in a no win situation,” the bill maintained fiscal year 2015 global health funding with $5.67 billion. The bill includes $250 million more than President Obama’s fiscal year 2016 request for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, exceeds the President’s proposed allocation for the United States Agency for International Development’s tuberculosis program, and maintains fiscal year 2015 funding levels for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
The bill, however also prohibits funding for the United Nations Population Fund, caps family planning and reproductive health programs at $461 million, the level for fiscal year 2008, and reinstates the Mexico City policy, also known as the “global gag rule,” prohibiting U.S. assistance to international family planning organizations that provide abortions, or abortion counseling.
All of those moves, Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee and the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee’s ranking member, impede efforts to meet women’s health needs, and to avert abortions. “I continue to stress the importance of ending these backward policies,” she said.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) also expressed concerns about family planning programming restrictions.
“I really wish, Madam Chair, this committee could take a [Congressional study tour] all committee members, men and women, to go to Malawi, so we could witness the positive impacts of what we’ve done as it relates to PEPFAR and the Global Fund, but also the negative impacts of the cuts in family planning,” Lee said. “Young girls, 11, 12 years old are having babies. They want family planning. Many girls have six, seven, eight children. They want but four to five kids, they told us.”
Investments in family planning protect health, and also are cost effective, Lee said. “I think once you see what’s taking place in these villages, and how desperate these young girls are for family planning assistance and counseling perhaps we’d have a different attitude about family planning.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fl), who accompanied Rep. Lee on a recent trip to Malawi, described the poverty in the country where, she said, with a population of about 17 million people almost 10 percent live with HIV. “So the cuts we provide in this bill have real impact on people who are already struggling and suffering.” Cuts to family planning, she added, contribute to problems that the Global Fund and PEPFAR seek to address. “The cuts in this bill in those areas are not responsible.”