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New Committees Bring Potential for New Opportunities in the 110th Congress, Part 2

The 110th Congress began in January with the Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate.  Advocates of sexual and reproductive health and rights are paying close attention to the new composition of those Congressional committees that have jurisdiction over health, funding, and oversight.  Below is an overview of the House and Senate committees that focus on related international issues.  For a similar overview of committees working on domestic reproductive and sexual health and rights priorities, please see last month’s policy update here.

Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

In the coming year, advocates for international sexual and reproductive health and rights policy will be focused on the possible reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), increased funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Global Fund), and increased and unrestricted funding for international family planning.  Two committees which will play vital roles in shaping these policies are the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, both of which have oversight over the foreign policy agencies of the U.S government, including the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Peace Corps.  

These two committees have jurisdiction over the reauthorization of PEPFAR, which is currently authorized through 2008, as well as other important pieces of legislation, including the Protection Against Transmission of HIV for Women and Youth (PATHWAY) Act.  The PATHWAY Act would strike the current earmark requirement in PEPFAR which mandate that one-third (1/3) of all prevention funding be dedicated to abstinence-until-marriage programs.  It would also require the President and the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) to establish a comprehensive and integrated HIV-prevention strategy to address the vulnerabilities of women and girls to HIV infection.  This bill must be passed by the committees before it could possibly go to the House or Senate floor for a vote.  

In the Senate, advocates will be looking to the leadership of Committee Chair Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE).  Senator Biden has long been a key champion on women’s issues and has  expressed particular interest in the relationship between violence and HIV in women.  Many of these issues are part of the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) which advocates are currently hoping to have introduced in the Senate.  In the House, advocates will be seeking support from Committee Chair Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) in order to move relevant legislation and to make improvements to PEPFAR during the reauthorization process—such as removing the abstinence-until-marriage earmark, increasing transparency of programs in the 15 PEPFAR focus countries, and including language focused on gender-based programming. 

Appropriations Subcommittees

This year, the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittee structures mirror one another with a total of 12 subcommittees in each Chamber.  The leadership of the full Appropriations Committee in the House is Chairman David Obey (D-WI) and Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (D-CA).  The Senate Appropriations Committee is led by Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS).

International health advocates are most concerned with the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs which have jurisdiction, in their respective chambers, over funding levels for many of those programs that fall under the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The House Subcommittee, which is now chaired by Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), has several new members including Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Steve Israel (D-NY), Ben Chandler (D-KY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Ranking Member Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Dave Weldon (R-FL).  In the Senate, the Subcommittee roster looks similar to last year’s with the Subcommittee now chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  The Ranking Member of the subcommittee is Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and new members include Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) as well as Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

Along with domestic advocates, international advocates are pleased with Representative Barbara Lee’s inclusion on the House Appropriations Committee, and in particular her placement on the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.  The Congresswoman is a key leader in the fight for international HIV-prevention funding and programs. She is also the lead sponsor of the PATHWAY Act.  In addition to Representative Lee, advocates will be looking to the leadership of Representatives Lowey, for support on issues such as removing the abstinence-until-marriage earmark in PEPFAR, increasing overall global HIV/AIDS funding, and increasing international family planning funds.  Representative Lowey has already introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act (H.B. 619) which would effectively remove the restrictions President Bush placed on international non-governmental family planning organizations when he reinstated the Global Gag Rule during his first year in office. (The Global Gag Rule, also know as the Mexico City Policy, denies organizations receiving U.S. family planning assistance the right to use their own non-U.S. funds to provide certain medical services despite the fact that such services are legal in their own country and would be legal if provided in the United States.)

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which focuses on the themes of federal government waste, fraud, and abuse, will now be chaired by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and will, hopefully, play a key role in investigating the current use of taxpayer funds for PEPFAR and highlighting on best practices that can be implemented to make this much needed program more effective.  Of particular importance to international advocates is the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee which is now under the leadership of Chairman John Tierney (D- MA) and Ranking Member Christopher Shays (R-CT).   In the 109th Congress, Representative Shays (then Subcommittee Chairman) held a hearing focused on the Government Accountability Office’s report on PEPFAR’s abstinence-until-marriage funding earmark.1  Representative Shays has indicated continued interest in this area and advocates look forward to working with him and Representative Waxman to improve PEPFAR.

Advocates for international sexual and reproductive health and rights are looking forward to working with the new chairpersons, ranking members, and committee members and hope that there will be earnest work done in this Congress to improve health care, sexuality education, family planning, and HIV prevention world wide.

For more information about the above mentioned Congressional Committees:

Committee on Appropriations:
Committee on Foreign Relations:

Committee on Appropriations:
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

Committee on Foreign Affairs:


  1. See previous policy update Representatives Question Abstinence-Until-Marriage Funding Requirement for more information.