Budget Blues

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The House and Senate are moving forward on a budget that could deal a devastating blow to global health programs. But there is still time to shape the package, especially in the Senate.

Last week, the Senate Budget Committee approved a plan to allocate $49.8 billion for the International Affairs Budget, the source of funding for global HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis programs. That’s the same amount that was allocated last year, and $4 billion less than President Barack Obama requested for 2010.

It is critical to weigh in now. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., are set to introduce an amendment to restore the $4 billion. A vote could come Tuesday or Wednesday.

Flat funding could seriously jeopardize vital global health programs such as PEPFAR. “It means potentially freezing the rosters of programs that provide life-saving treatment for people with HIV/AIDS,” Kerry and Lugar wrote in a letter to their Senate colleagues urging support for their amendment.

Here are some talking points, taken from an alert to IDSA’s membership, urging them to contact their U.S. senators now:

*Last summer Congress reauthorized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) at $48 billion over 5 years, and committed to putting three million people on treatment, reaching 12 million through prevention and 12 million through care. Flat funding for International Affairs won’t be enough to scale up programs and follow through on this promise.

*Other promises made by the President, Vice President and Secretary of State cannot be kept with the current budget request, including the fair-share contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

*The global economic crisis makes Foreign Assistance an even greater priority – now more than ever, the world’s most vulnerable people need support to protect themselves from preventable diseases, to access to education and microfinance that are essential to lifting themselves out of poverty, and medicines that prolong their lives and enable them to support their families, communities and nations.

On another note, HIV advocates scored one success in the budget wrangling last week, when an amendment to extend abstinence-only-until-marriage program went down in defeat. The amendment, offered by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., failed by 13 to 10.

But advocates say the battle is not completely won; the proposal may be offered again on the Senate floor this week.

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