Arts & Entertainment
Gay agenda stalls in congress
by Bob Roehr
Originally printed 07/26/2007 (Issue 1530 - Between The Lines News)
WASHINGTON, DC -
The legislative gay agenda has stalled in Congress, with growing frustration among both the LGBT community and its politicos. Democratic control of both chambers has not resulted in passage of bills that have long been labeled priorities.
At a community forum last February, John Marble, spokesman for National Stonewall Democrats, said "The Democratic Party has made a lot of promises to the LGBT community, that we will deliver for you if you elect us to office." Now that it has regained control of Congress, it is time to deliver results.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Joe Solmonese told the same gathering, the game plan was for Congress to enact hate crimes legislation in April and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) before the August recess, or soon after it.
In a private conversation, HRC's David Smith said the strategy was to vote first on hate crimes, believed to be the easier piece of legislation, to demonstrate to new members of Congress that voting for a pro-gay measure would not have negative political repercussions. It would pave the way for a later vote on ENDA.
The House did pass a hate crimes measure on May 3. However, a number of Democrats defected and Republican votes were needed to put it over the top.
The strategy in the Senate became one of attaching hate crimes legislation to the most controversial piece of legislation before that body, the Defense Department appropriations bill, the same vehicle being used to force a troop pullout from Iraq.
The Senate's all night "pajama party" to debate the war resolution, on July 17-18, did nothing to resolve that larger issue and the appropriations bill was pulled from consideration. After the one night stunt there was no talk of staying in session through the proposed August recess.
So the ostensibly easy hate crimes amendment will not be considered until after the summer recess, in September. And even then, there are rumblings of trouble. It is said that Armed Services committee chairman Carl Levin wants a "clean" bill, without amendments.
John Marble tried to wax philosophical about the delay. He said, "For Congress, it's moving at lightening speed." Unfortunately the legislative clock is different from that of the average citizen.
AIDS funding has done only marginally better. After three days of debate, the House passed the $607 billion Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill on the night of July 19. Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wisconsin) larded on $10.8 billion in additional spending to what the Bush budget requested, in an attempt to build a bipartisan majority that would withstand a threatened presidential veto over the added money.
He came close, getting 276 0f the 290 votes necessary to override a veto. But he had to resort to buy-offs such as a $28 million increase in funding for abstinence only programs, that even the Republican controlled Congress had not seen fit to increase over the last two years.
In contrast, the bill "includes a token $99 million increase for the Ryan White CARE Act, barely more than what the AIDS-hostile Republicans put in last year, said the New York based advocacy group Housing Works.
The details of the committee report were not released until after the measure had passed. It includes "hold-harmless" provisions that would limit the funds that some older jurisdictions would lose as funding is shifted to areas with more recent HIV infections.
Republicans, led by former committee chair Senator Joe Barton (R-Texas), attempted to reverse that to spend money according to the revised Ryan White spending formula that was adopted when the bill was rewritten and past last December.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked quietly behind the scenes to protect her home turf. The amendment was defeated and San Francisco will not lose an anticipated $6.3 million in funding. The entire Bay Area would have lost an estimated $18.1 million. That money will not be available for use by other areas where the epidemic is growing.