President Seeks Unity With State of the Union Address

By Rob Banaszak on January 26, 2011 in Policy/Advocacy

by William McColl, Director, Political Affairs

In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama sought to refocus the terms of the national debate away from last year’s health care reform bill onto the need for jobs.  For the first time at the State of the Union in recent memory, Republicans and Democrats sat together and wore  black and white ribbons to honor the victims of tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ and the ongoing fight for survival of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

Domestic spending freeze: no cuts “on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens”

The President spoke of seeking common ground with the newly-empowered Republicans in Congress, focusing on deficit reduction and offering a five year freeze on “annual domestic spending.”  Such a freeze seems designed to exclude possible increases in spending through entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.  However he emphasized that the new health care reform bill would actually slow spending increases in those programs.  The President also sought to carve out space for his priorities noting that deficit reduction could not only come from the 12% of the federal budget devoted to social and health care spending.  Encouragingly he urged Congress not to make cuts “on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Health care reform: “let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward”

On health care, the President once again sought common ground with Republicans by agreeing to change at least one provision to eliminate bookkeeping burdens on small businesses and offered to review other possible changes.  However he also defended the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) stating that, “this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their parents’ coverage.”  Finally he challenged Congress, saying “instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward.”

Republican response

In the Republican response, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) reiterated the Republican message points, promising that the new House majority would find ways to cut spending.  He also claimed that the health care reform bill was “accelerating the country towards bankruptcy and would cause millions of Americans to lose health care coverage due to increased health care premiums.  This conflicts directly with Congressional Budget Office estimates that over ten years the health care reform law would slow the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending by about $230 billion.  Nevertheless he said that Republicans would continue efforts to repeal the bill and replace it with fiscally responsible reforms.  He did not offer examples of what those reforms would be.  The House last week passed a resolution calling for four committees to develop replacement solutions.

AIDS United is advocating for continued implementation of health care reform;
Opposes repeal of Affordable Care Act

AIDS United opposes repeal of the Affordable Care Act and is concerned that efforts to do so will ultimately result in moving back towards funding HIV/AIDS treatment and care through vulnerable discretionary funding.  This funding is already stretched thin, most visibly resulting in more than 5000 people being placed on waiting lists for AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.  AIDS United continues to hear concerns from people in the field that it is harder for people living with HIV to get necessary doctor visits, dental and vision care or access to support services that help people living with HIV to gain access to good treatment.  Additionally cuts in services threaten not only the ability of people who currently need to access care, but also fail to acknowledge every two years more than 100,000 people are infected with this terrible disease,   who also will require services too.  Failure to deal with this reality, both by preventing disease and failing to treat people living with HIV will take us back to the days in which our public health system verged on collapse.  We cannot and we will not let that happen.

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