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House of Representatives Approves Permanent Ban on Federal Funding of Needle Exchanges


May-June 1998

On April 29, the House of Representative approved Republican-sponsored legislation that would ban permanently federal funding for needle-exchange programs, although a conditional prohibition had been in place since 1988 and it had been extended a week earlier by the Clinton administration ("House vote bans funds for needle exchanges," USA Today, April 30, 1998, p. 12A; Joan Lowy, "House condemns needle exchanges," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), April 30, 1998, p. 48A; Greg McDonald, "House OKs fund ban for needle exchanges," Houston Chronicle, April 30, 1998, p. 6A; Mary Agnes Carey, "GOP Moves To Bar Funds For Needle Programs, Offers Anti-Drug Proposals," CQ Weekly, May 2, 1998, p. 1159).

Voting 287-140, the House passed H.R. 3717 and signaled that it did not trust President Clinton's promise to continue the ban. The legislation would end federal support to any health clinics or organizations that operate a needle exchange.

Republican leaders used debate on the bill to accuse Clinton of abandoning the anti-drug effort because his Administration issued a finding on April 20 that needle-exchange programs are effective in preventing the spread of HIV and do not lead to more drug use ("Ban on Federal Funding of Needle Exchanges Will Not Be Lifted, Says Clinton Administration," NewsBriefs, March-April 1998).

Republican leaders focused on drugs and needle exchanges at a Capitol Hill campaign-style rally on April 30 where GOP leaders declared their "World War II-style war on drugs." The Republican strategy for "a real war on drugs" includes strengthening law enforcement efforts with tougher penalties for drug use and trafficking, and more money for border patrol agents.

"By condoning and embracing the concept of giving free needles to drug addicts, President Clinton has raised the white flag of surrender," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX). "Instead of leadership on the issue, we get a deadhead president who supports a program that gives free needles to drug addicts," said Delay. Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY) said, "The Clinton Administration's endorsement of needle exchange programs is part of an intolerable message to our nation's children sent by the White House that drug use is a way of life."

In a statement condemning the needle-exchange vote, AIDS Action Council accused House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and other supporters of the legislation of putting "politics ahead of the lives of the most vulnerable Americans." The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian and gay political organization, also condemned the legislation. "In this election year, scientific evidence apparently has no role in shaping public health policy," said HRC political director Winnie Stachelberg, who noted that about one-third of reported AIDS cases are linked to the use of dirty hypodermic needles.

AIDS Action Council - 1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20009, Tel: (202) 986-1300, Fax: (202) 986-1345.

Human Rights Campaign - 1101 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005, Tel: (202) 628-4160, Fax: (202) 347-5323.