In September, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to maintain a consolidated appropriation for NIH AIDS research, sparing the Office of AIDS Research from becoming a paper tiger at the start of the next fiscal year. The Senate Committee's actions, however, were based on procedural grounds, with Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Mark Hatfield (R-OR) prohibiting the use of his spending bills for anything but the allocation of dollars for federal programs.
Meanwhile, the OAR's blue-ribbon review of the NIH AIDS program and the consolidated budget came under attack from NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, who has gone public with his back-channel opposition to the Office. Dr. Fauci's comments contradict the positions of NIH Director Harold Varmus, HHS and White House officials, who all strongly support the Office. His comments also contradict the views of the extramural scientific community (including three Nobel Prize winners) which has come out strongly in support for the OAR. The OAR also has the support of all of the major national AIDS organizations.
In early October, TAG's Gregg Gonsalves, AmFAR Public Policy Director Jane Silver, Deputy Director of AIDS Action Council Christine Lubinski, Republican ex-Congressman Rod Chandler and Northwestern University pediatric AIDS researcher, Steven Wolinsky met with the major Congressional opponent of the OAR's budget authority, Rep. John Porter (R-IL). The delegation appealed to Mr. Porter on behalf of the extramural scientific community and AIDS organizations across the country to reverse his decision on the OAR's fiscal powers when the House and Senate meet to hammer out a final version of the NIH spending bill. However, as TAGline goes to press, the NIH spending bill is stalled in the Senate with Democrats threatening a filibuster over a host of different provisions unrelated to AIDS in the legislation. Beltway pundits are predicting a protracted deadlock forcing all HHS agencies to operate under a continuing resolution (a procedural encore of last year's budget minus 5%) for months to come. TAG's Legislative Affairs Committee (Barbara Hughes, Joy Episalla, Laura Morrison, Andrea Benzacar, Howard Lune, B.C. Craig, Paul Dietz, Dennis Davidson, Gregg Gonsalves) is hunkering down for the long, hard winter ahead.