Friday, August 19, 2011

Why the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus Needs to Rise Above Partisanship

The U.S. House of Representatives recently filed paperwork to form the bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus ((formerly the Congressional Task Force on International HIV/AIDS) ). The Caucus is being spearheaded by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) "to examine methods by which the United States can maintain global leadership in the response to the epidemic." During the August recess, Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents (YOU) about why it is important that they join the Caucus...especially Republican lawmakers.

Not simply because the Republicans control the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, but more importantly because HIV/AIDS is NOT a partisan issue. Since the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) doesn't ask people it is about to infect about their political party affiliation, it is incumbent upon our elected officials to combat HIV using the very same standard. Partisanship needs to be left out of the equation altogether.

At this very moment, Representatives Lee, McDermott and Franks are soliciting their House colleagues to join the Caucus, but they need to hear from people living with HIV/AIDS! Without a strong and consistent outcry from the community, many lawmakers might be left with the false impression that HIV/AIDS isn't a priority for the 112th Congress. Unfortunately, thus far only Democrats have joined the Caucus (although numerous GOP offices have been targeted and most likely will be joining).

Unless more House Republicans join the Caucus and together with their Democratic colleagues identify and support viable solutions, it [the Caucus] will be doomed to failure. It is especially critical that long-time GOP lawmakers with established records on HIV/AIDS join the Caucus. They include, just to name a few, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Rep. Mary Bono Mack (CA), Rep. Frank Wolf (VA) or Rep. Kay Granger (TX).

With so many issues facing the country, unfortunately HIV/AIDS has been relegated to the back burner in many respects. The Caucus represents an excellent opportunity to change this paradigm. In the 112th Congress, the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus will explore five thematic areas:

Implementation of the US National HIV/AIDS Strategy;
Financing for Bilateral and Multilateral HIV/AIDS programs;
The state of HIV/AIDS research;
The role of Faith-Based Organizations; and
The 2012 International AIDS Conference to be held in Washington, D.C.

While efforts to initiate the bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus should undoubtably be commended, it shouldn't be overlooked that this is being done at the very same time a record number of people living with HIV/AIDS are languishing on waiting lists under the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs). So...any Congressional effort to address HIV/AIDS-related issues should first focus on the domestic crisis facing 9,217 ADAP-eligible patients who are being forced to go without their life-saving medications, as well as the hundreds more who have been kicked off their State's ADAP by eligibility restrictions.

Is it rational to discuss research when thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS are being denied access to care and treatment? Does it make any sense for lawmakers elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by people living in the United States to address issues with an international focus without first taking immediate steps to alleviate the ongoing ADAP crisis? Doing so would only lessen credibility surrounding the Caucus' activities. There are people right here, right now who desperately need their elected officials to provide leadership, regardless of political party.

That is why the bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus needs to be just that...bipartisan!

Editor's Note: When contacting your Member of Congress about the bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, tell them that to join the Caucus or for more information, please contact Jirair Ratevosian (Lee), Andrew Adair (McDermott) or Stephanie Hammond (Franks).


Jason King said...

This blog is right on point. HIV+ individuals need to speak out. Come out of the shadows and join together to fight for our lives! Who's with me?

ADAP Advocacy Association said...

UPDATE: After this blog was published, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's office informed the ADAP Advocacy Association had joined the Caucus.

ADAP Advocacy Association said...

UPDATE: Friends of the HIV/AIDS Caucus:

The Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus is now up to 61 Members of Congress, including the most recent addition of Senator John Boozman.

A listing of the most up-to-date membership is below, followed by an announcement which can be shared with congressional contacts.

House Members (60):
Barbara Lee (CA); Jim McDermott (WA); Barney Franks (MA); Madeleine Bordallo (GU); Robert Brady (PA); Michael Capuano (MA); Donna Christensen (VI); Steve Cohen (TN); John Conyers Jr. (MI); Eliot Engel (NY); Maurice Hinchey (NY); Jerold Nadler (NY); Donald Payne (NJ); Mike Quigley (IL); John Olver (MA); Charles Rangel (NY); Edolphus Towns (NY); G.K. Butterfield (NC); Elijah Cummings (MD); Albio Sires (NJ); Bill Pascrell Jr. (NJ); Janice Schakowsky (IL); Maxine Waters (CA); Bobby Rush (IL); Alcee Hastings (FL); Raúl Grijalva (AZ); Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC); Bobby Scott (VA); Karen Bass (CA); Luis Gutierrez (IL); David Cicilline (RI); John Lewis (GA); Hank Johnson (GA); Henry Waxman (CA); Hansen Clarke (MI); Judy Chu (CA); Melvin Watt (NC); Michael Honda (CA); Nancy Pelosi (CA); Bruce Braley (IA); Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL); Corrine Brown (FL); Carolyn Maloney (NY); Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL); James Himes (CT); Howard Berman (CA); Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA); Theodore Deutch (FL); Tammy Baldwin (WI); Kathy Castor (FL); Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL); John Carter (TX); David McKinley (WV); Frederica Wilson (FL); José Serrano (NY); Linda Sanchez (CA); Charles Gonzales (TX); Jackie Speier (CA); Steven Rothman (NJ); Adam Schiff (CA)

Senate Members (1):
John Boozman (AR)