UPDATE: The GOP is also coming up with amendments to short-circuit the lifting of the ban.
This really came out of nowhere. Yesterday, we had AIDS activists quite literally close down the US Capitol Rotunda to protest President Obama’s request to Congress to keep the federal ban on needle exchange in place (Obama had promised during the election to help lift the ban, but in his budget this year asked Congress to keep it). Today, we have the mark-up of the House Labor-HHS Appropriations bill, and in it is a repeal of the needle exchange ban. (The CDC, WHO, NIH and President Clinton’s Surgeon General all found that needle exchange programs decrease the spread of HIV.)
Was this in response to the protests yesterday? I suspect a bit of yes and a bit of no. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been dogging this issue (for the good guys) for 14 years now. So this is a priority for the Speaker. But this news, coming on the heels of the protests, sure suggests that they had an impact. And good for them. And good for the Speaker. A lesser politician would say “you know, I want to include needle exchange in the mark-up, but because of the protests we have to take it out, or else we’ll look like we caved to public pressure.” Pelosi, on the other hand, just went ahead with the policy change because it’s the right thing to do.
The House has now presented the Obama administration with a perfect opportunity to show leadership. In explaining why the president asked Congress to continue the ban in his most recent budget, an administration spokesman said:
“We have not removed the ban in our budget proposal because we want to work with Congress and the American public to build support for this change,” he said.
I’m happy to take that statement at face value. What’s the administration’s plan for working with Congress to get the votes in the full House, and to get the needle exchange ban on the docket, and passed, in the Senate?
Here’s that protest again: