Pubdate: Thu, 30 Apr 1998
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA) 
Author: Louis Freedberg, Chronicle Washington Bureau


House tries to make Clinton's ban permanent

The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to impose a permanent ban on using
federal funds to support needle exchange programs designed to stop the
spread of AIDS.

Yesterday's 287-to-140 vote was largely symbolic. It came just two weeks
after Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala announced that
the administration would not lift the ban, despite conclusive scientific
evidence that needle exchanges as part of a comprehensive treatment program
prevent the spread of AIDS and do not encourage drug use.

``Yesterday's vote does nothing to change the science,'' said Representative
Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who led the opposition to the legislation on
the House floor. ``Needle exchange programs work, and they work well.''

The bill still requires Senate consideration. White House officials
condemned the vote, which they said was ``unnecessary and unwarranted.''

However, opponents of needle exchanges feared that without imposing a
permanent ban, the administration might succumb to pressure and lift the ban
in the future.

Republicans also signalled that they intend to use the administration's
position on needle exchange programs against it during the current election

``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,'' said Representative Gerald Solomon,
R-N.Y., a sponsor of the legislation.

And House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the House action was
necessary to counter a ``deadhead president that supports a program that
gives free needles to drug addicts.''

On one level, the vote was a vindication of President Clinton's refusal to
lift the ban on federal funding. White House officials argued two weeks ago
that even if they had moved to lift the ban, it would have been overturned
by Congress.

In fact, Speaker Newt Gingrich had speeded up consideration of the bill,
which did not go through the usual committee process.

AIDS activists, however, contend that the issue has such dire life and death
consequences, and the scientific evidence is so conclusive that the
president should have been willing to stand up to Congress on the issue.
``Speaker Gingrich's cynical action puts politics ahead of the lives of the
most vulnerable Americans,'' said Daniel Zingale, executive director of AIDS
Action in Washington, D.C.

``Putting Newt Gingrich in charge of the science of AIDS is like putting the
Spice Girls in charge of Congress.''

1998 San Francisco Chronicle