Washington Blade - June 26, 2008
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Wednesday
night that Democratic and Republican leaders appeared to have
settled differences over a global AIDS relief bill that includes
a provision repealing a 15-year-old law banning foreign visitors
and immigrants with HIV from entering or seeking permanent
residence in the U.S.
Both Reid and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who was among a
half-dozen Republican senators who placed a hold on the AIDS
relief bill, each issued statements on Wednesday saying a
compromise had been reached over disagreements on the bill, known
as PEPFAR (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).
The disagreements pertained to the amount of funding for the AIDS
relief program and whether or not at least 55 percent of the
proposed $50 billion in funds should go to medical care and
treatment. No serious opposition surfaced against the provision
calling for repeal of the HIV visitor and immigrant ban.
Reid said he was hopeful that a vote on the revised bill could
take place as soon as this week or at least before Congress
begins its July 4 recess next week.
A bipartisan coalition of Democratic and Republican senators on
the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed to
attach the HIV visitors and immigrant ban repeal provision to the
PEPFAR bill in March, when the committee voted to approve the
Gay rights and AIDS activists were hopeful that attaching the
repeal provision to the PEPFAR bill would greatly improve its
chances of passing. Most of the nation's gay rights and AIDS
advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, have lobbied Congress to
repeal the ban.
The House of Representatives earlier this year passed a different
version of PEPFAR that does not include a repeal provision for
the HIV visitor and immigrant ban. House Democratic leaders have
declined to say why they chose not to add the repeal provision to
the bill but have said they would go along with the Senate
version in a House-Senate conference committee.
If the legislation passes this year with the repeal provision
intact and is signed by President Bush, who has endorsed it, it
would mark the first major piece of legislation pushed by gay and
AIDS groups to be enacted into law since the Democrats took
control of Congress in January 2007.