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Chris Johnson, the Washington Blade: Will Obama Oppose Cuts To HIV/AIDS Programs In Deficit Reduction?

Will Obama Oppose Cuts To HIV/AIDS Programs In Deficit Reduction? 
by Chris Johnson on August 8, 2011

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stopped short Monday of saying that President Obama would oppose any cuts to federally funded HIV/AIDS initiatives that would emerge in Congress as a result of the debt agreement.

In response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, Carney said he’d have to offer a response later on whether Obama would speak out against cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention, drug prevention or research as part of the deficit reduction efforts as part of the debt agreement— or whether the President would voice opposition to such cuts in his recommendations to Congress on cuts to federal programs.

“I’m not aware of any specific cuts in that direction as part of this deal,” Carney said. “I’ll have to take your question because I don’t think that level of specificity exists at this point. The fact is that we feel very strongly that research is essential and we’ll continue to support it, but on this specific issue, I have to take your question.”

The White House didn’t respond in time for this posting in response a request for more details on whether the President would oppose any reductions to these HIV/AIDS initiatives.

The debt deal signed last week into enables President Obama to raise the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion and eliminates the need for another increase until 2013, but also requires a total of nearly $2.5 trillion in spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit.

Advocates have expressed concern that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, AIDS research initiatives and AIDS Drug Assistance Programs could be among the programs on the chopping block — in addition to the services the Medicare and Medicaid provide to people living with HIV/AIDS.

The agreement calls for a first tranche of spending cuts that total nearly $1 trillion over 10 years. Those cuts include $350 billion from the defense budget, but the remaining cuts could impact discretionary HIV/AIDS initiatives. However, Medicare and Medicaid — as well as the services they provide to people with living with HIV/AIDS — are protected under this first round of cuts.

To institute more cuts, the deal creates a bipartisan panel that has become known as a “Super Committee” made up of congressional leaders and will be required to identify an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. Both Medicare and Medicaid as well as discretionary HIV/AIDS initiatives could be cut for this round of cuts.

Should Congress fail to act on the committee’s recommendations, a trigger mechanism will be enacted for mandatory spending cuts. Those cuts — which would begin in January 2013 — will be split 50/50 between domestic and defense spending, although Social Security, Medicare beneficiaries and low-income programs would be exempt from those cuts.

In a statement at the White House Monday, Obama said he’d issue a recommendation to the “Super Committee” on the best path forward for finding $1.5 trillion in budget cuts, but offered limited details in his speech about his plan.

“I intend to present my own recommendations over the coming weeks on how we should proceed,” Obama said. “And that committee will have this administration’s full cooperation.  And I assure you, we will stay on it until we get the job done.”

The President said the U.S. government can’t make much further cuts to defense and domestic spending and predicted the remainder the deficit reduction would come from “tax reform that will ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share and modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare.”

Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, said Carney is right that the super committee “won’t get down to that level for discretionary programs” for HIV/AIDS programs, but said the actions of the committee could lead to specific reductions to these initiatives later in the process

“The overall cuts will be decided and then the appropriations committees will come up with the details,” Schmid said. “Also [we’re] very concerned about cuts to Medicaid and Medicare which will also impact people with AIDS.”

Schmid added that he’d like the administration “protect cuts to patients” by articulating opposition to reductions in federally funded HIV/AIDS initiatives in his recommendations to Congress and elsewhere.

UPDATE: Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, issued the following statement in the response to the Blade’s request to follow up on the issue:

“The deal is a down payment on deficit reduction so that we begin to live within our means,” Inouye said. “The nearly $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts are achieved through spending caps both on security and non-security spending. Specifics about how these levels will be met will be determined through discussions between the Administration and appropriators in Congress over the coming months.”

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