NEEDLE EXCHANGE: House Passes Permanent Funding Ban
Following a "bitterly partisan" debate, House lawmakers "approved Republican-sponsored legislation Wednesday that would ban federal funding for needle-exchange programs," despite the fact that "a prohibition has been in place since 1988 and was extended last week by the Clinton administration." According to the Houston Chronicle, the 287-140 vote in favor of the legislation "signaled, in effect, that" the House "did not trust President Clinton's promise to enforce the ban" (McDonald, 4/30). Introduced by Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the bill "permanently forbids any federal funds for free needles" (Scully, Washington Times, 4/30). Going "further," Wicker's bill includes "language aimed at eliminating all exchange programs, regardless of funding sources, by calling for an end to federal support of health clinics or organizations that operate them" (Houston Chronicle, 4/30). The San Francisco Chronicle called the vote "largely symbolic," since the White House decided last week to leave the funding ban in place. The bill must pass the Senate before it can be sent to the president. Yesterday, the White House labeled the legislation "unnecessary and unwarranted" (Freedberg, 4/30).
During the debate, Republicans "used the bill to accuse Clinton of abandoning the war on drugs because" his administration said scientific studies back needle exchanges' effectiveness in fighting the spread of HIV. "By condoning and embracing the concept of giving free needles to drug addicts, President Clinton has raised the white flag of surrender. Instead of leadership on the issue, we get a deadhead president who supports a program that gives free needles to drug addicts," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) (Houston Chronicle, 4/30). Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY) said, "Needle-exchange programs do not save lives, they destroy lives. They destroy hope, they destroy opportunity, they ruin families and they ruin communities, and in some cases they are actually destroying a nation like the Netherlands and like Switzerland. We cannot let that happen in this country" ("NewsHour," PBS, 4/29). According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Republicans "also signaled that they intend to use the administration's position on needle-exchange programs against it during the current election season."
Defenders Of The Faith
In reaction to the Republican bill, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, "You'd think that we were having a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. How can we turn our back to the science?" Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said, "The needle-exchange program has nothing to do with supporting the illegal use of drugs. It's plain common sense, folks. People who use drugs are addicted; they're sick; they need intervention; they need prevention; they need treatment. The use of clean needles saves lives. It prevents the spread of HIV" ("NewsHour," PBS, 4/29). AIDS Action issued a statement accusing supporters of the GOP bill of placing "politics ahead of the lives of the most vulnerable Americans." The Human Rights Campaign called the sponsors "unabashed stage horses who have placed their political careers ahead of people's lives" (Houston Chronicle, 4/30). David Harvey, executive director of the AIDS Policy Center for Children, Youth and Families, said: "Today's vote shows that public health has taken a back seat to election-year politics" (release, 4/29).