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JANUARY 25, 2013
Debt Limit Decoupled from Other Fiscal Issues in House Vote

This week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 325, a bill to suspend the debt limit through May 18. The bill would not allow increases in the debt limit except funds necessary to pay current government commitments as long as no additional debt is incurred. The bill passed by a vote of 285 to 144 with 33 Republicans voting against the measure and 86 Democrats in favor. No new funding cuts or tax increases were put in place to suspend the debt limit. As a practical matter, this is important because it decouples the debt limit from two other important deadlines, the imposition of sequestration on March 1 and the end of the Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) Continuing Resolution (CR) on March 27. Republican legislators made the shift because they were convinced that they will have more leverage to negotiate spending cuts on the latter two issues than by potentially threatening a default on the debt and possibly harming the U.S.’s credit rating.

President Obama has issued a Statement of Administration Policy saying he would sign the legislation, though he supports a long-term solution to the debt limit. Sen. Reid (D-NV), Majority Leader, said the Senate will pass the legislation unchanged. One of the more interesting parts of the legislation is a policy to hold Members of Congress’s pay in escrow if each chamber does not pass a budget by April 15. Both chambers plan to produce a budget this year, thereby allowing Members to be paid.

The sequestration debate will be the subject of the second fiscal conversation in Congress. Sequestration is set go into effect on March 1 with across-the-board cuts of approximately 5.1% for non-defense discretionary programs, including HIV programs. The debate to halt it or allow the drastic cuts will likely be very contentious. Republican Members of the House of Representatives are seriously considering letting sequestration take effect to secure the cuts they believe need to happen. The House debate does not take into consideration the $1.5 trillion of cuts ($1.7 trillion with interest) that have already been enacted. President Obama continues to say that the route to solving our fiscal crisis is to have a balanced approach to address the deficit, by making cuts and increasing revenue. In contrast, many Republicans say that no additional revenue is needed through tax increases.

The third fiscal issue that must be addressed in March is the completion of FY13 Appropriations when the six month CR expires on March 27. This will be the next time Congress will have another debate on spending cuts and tax increases as further cuts are attempted. Many Republican Members are stating they would be fine with a government shutdown in order to secure the cuts that they are hoping to occur. AIDS United will continue to keep you informed about these fiscal issues.

If sequestration takes effect the cuts will affect HIV programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources Services Administration, National Institutes of Health, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, among other non-defense discretionary programs.

In related fiscal news, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the incoming Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, also announced recently that the Committee will return to regular order and draft a budget this year. She noted that the Senate had not previously produced a budget because the Budget Control Act of 2011 had already set spending limits. She stated that the budget would take a balanced approach to spending and revenue increases in order to protect programs for the middle class. Given this statement, the Senate’s budget will likely rely on higher tax revenues, which will directly conflict with a House budget to be proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chair of the House Budget Committee. The Committee is tasked with producing a path to a balanced budget in ten years. The debates surrounding sequestration and the completion of FY13 Appropriations will also factor heavily into the budget debate, and AIDS United will keep you informed on these issues as they progress.

Senate Makes Minor Filibuster Reforms

Under new rules negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KS), the Senate adopted relatively minor tweaks to filibuster rules that are likely to lead to a faster process but do not fundamentally alter the ability of the Senate’s minority to block legislation. The major changes create two processes for getting a bill to the floor. If the Majority and Minority Leader (and 7 Senators from each party) agree to take a bill to the floor, the new rules will eliminate two (of three) days waiting time related to a cloture vote. On the other hand, if there is no agreement, the majority also will be able to move a bill to the floor without an initial filibuster if it guarantees both parties the ability to debate two amendments. Under this scenario the minority can still choose to filibuster at a later stage. Any amendment that is ruled to be non-germane will be subject to a 60 vote threshold. Senate Republicans have recently complained that they have not been given opportunities to amend bills on the floor.

Other informal elements of the deal will be created as process changes under the current rules. Those changes include requiring Senators who wish to filibuster or object to a vote actually to be present on the floor and limiting the use of quorum calls to slow business down (by forcing Senators to report to the floor to establish an actual quorum if a quorum is repeatedly called as a delaying tactic). There will also be a standing order to set shorter debate times after a cloture vote, including limiting debate to 2 hours on District court nominees and 8 hours on other nominees.

Despite these changes, most bills will still require 60 votes to allow a bill to proceed (rather than a simple majority) and ultimately become law. This outcome was fundamentally disappointing to leaders who sought to stop abuses of the filibuster more dramatically. Proposals to require opponents of a bill to hold the floor by talking or to require filibusterers to produce and hold 41 or more members on the floor were not accepted. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a leader of the reform efforts called the changes “baby steps” and predicted as a result that many elements of the President’s agenda would not be passed.

In the end, the reforms may help the Senate to move bills and nominees more efficiently but any bill that moves will continue to require at least five Senators from the minority party to reach the 60 vote threshold to end the filibuster.

The bills debated by the Senate can be found by clicking here and here.

Witness to History (Again): Inauguration 2013

By Melissa Donze, Zamora Fellow, AIDS United

Six hours of freezing cold temperatures; six hours of standing in the same place, watching the sun rise over the Capitol; six hours of waiting to hear a single person speak; and it was worth every single second.

Four years ago, I drove to Washington, D.C., with some of my college friends so I could be witness to the historic inauguration of the man who renewed my hope in the collective power of individuals. Being a part of President Obama’s first inauguration is one of my most treasured memories; for the first time in my life, I was part of something bigger than myself, something that we have only begun to understand within the context of history.

Four years later, I found myself in D.C. again, this time as a resident and an advocate for people living with HIV. When the opportunity to attend President Obama’s second inauguration presented itself, I couldn’t say no; I wanted to be a part of history again. This time, the crowd looked different. It was smaller, but hopeful; enthusiastic, but resilient. The past four years had changed all of us in one way or another. I was older, and maybe a little bit wiser. I went abroad and returned home with an altered perspective of the world every time. I graduated from college and got my first taste of the “real world.”

Click here to read more about Melissa’s inauguration experience.
Remembering Our Friend Dave Purchase

By William McColl, Director of Political Affairs, AIDS United

Dave Purchase, the Executive Director of the North American Syringe Exchange Network passed away on Monday, January 21st. He will be remembered for inspiring, tireless advocacy on syringe. As he always said, “the point is the point!”

Dave Purchase was my friend and my mentor. I will always choose to remember him at a moment of triumph; his visit to the U.S. Capitol in May of 2010 to receive a “Champion of Public Health Awards” at the victory celebration for overturning the ban on the use of federal and local Washington DC funds for syringe exchange in 2009. In a place where Members of Congress address each other as “my friend” and “the honorable member,” Dave used his speech to directly bring in the view from the harm reduction street to Congress. He spoke simply and eloquently about the value and cost effectiveness of syringe exchange programs, but he reminded folks of the extreme cost in lives and money of the 20 years it took to change ignorant laws. I am pretty sure Dave is the only person I’ve heard use the f-word 3 times in a speech at the Capitol. I’m still smiling and I think he was pleased with that – I think he’d enjoy that I’m sharing that with you.

To read more about Dave’s incredible work and the impact he had on the AIDS United staff, click here.


Register Today for AIDSWatch 2013

AIDSWatch 2013 is one month away, so make your plans and register today! Join the National Association of People with AIDS, the Treatment Access Expansion Project and AIDS United February 25-26, 2013, in Washington, D.C., to make your voice heard with your Members of Congress about HIV and health-related policy! For more information about AIDSWatch and how to register, please click here.

Webinar - January 28th: “Fiscal Cliff Notes: What You Need to Know about What’s Happened so Far, And What Comes Next”

The Coalition on Human Needs and the National Women’s Law Center are cosponsoring a webinar titled “Fiscal Cliff Notes: What You Need to Know about What’s Happened so Far, and What Comes Next” on Monday, January 28 from 1:30-2:30 pm EST. Speakers will discuss the recently passed budget deal, including the multiple threats to needed services, the impact on low- and moderate-income people, the prospect of government default and shutdown and what’s being done to pull back from the cliff. Featured speakers include Joan Entmacher, Vice President for Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center and Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs. The webinar will be moderated by Ellen Teller, Director of Government Relations at the Food Research and Action Center. Click here to register today!

Webinar – January 31: “Cultural Competence: Strengthening the Clinician’s Role in Delivering Quality HIV Care within Veteran Communities”

The AIDS Education and Training Center – National Multicultural Center at Howard University, College of Medicine, will present a webinar titled “Cultural Competence: Strengthening the Clinician’s Role in Delivering Quality HIV Care within Veteran Communities” on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Katherine Holman, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham will address the demographics of U.S. veterans living with HIV/AIDS, list risk factors for HIV/AIDS among U.S. veterans, describe strategies for providing culturally competent clinical care to veterans living with HIV/AIDS and identity culturally appropriate resources available to veterans with HIV/AIDS and their care providers.

Click here to register today!

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is February 7, 2013

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is just 2 weeks away! To learn more about events and programs being held on February 7, 2013, click here. To learn about other HIV/AIDS awareness days through the year, click here.

2013 U.S. Conference on AIDS

The U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA) will take place September 8-11, 2013, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Orleans, LA. The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) and its USCA program partners are soliciting abstracts from people working in the field of HIV/AIDS interested in convening a seminar, workshop, roundtable or poster presentation at the conference. Abstract submissions should be relevant to one or more of the seven USCA tracks: High Impact Prevention; Organizations and Change Management; Linkage to Care and Primary Care; Retention in Care and Primary Care and Viral Suppression; Housing; Domestic/International Issues Intersection; and Treatment and Research. Abstracts should be guided by an "ending the epidemic" theme and should incorporate it into the proposed discussion/presentation.

To learn more about registering for USCA 2013, click here.

To learn more about applying for scholarships to attend USCA 2013, click here.

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