Congressional gridlock stalling Democrats’ policy agenda

Congressional gridlock has stalled the Democrats’ agenda, and the resulting stalemate directly and disproportionately impacts people living with and vulnerable to HIV. The AIDS United Policy Department has broken down how this stalemate has led to delays in increases to federally funded HIV programs and delays in increasing access to the right to vote. 

Back in late December, Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he would not support President Biden’s Build Back Better Act. Manchin’s vote was necessary to reach a majority in the Senate to move the $2 trillion legislative package. With this declaration, which came after months of tense negotiation between Democratic senators and holdouts like Manchin, Joe Biden’s flagship legislation was sunk. 

In January, Senate Democrats shifted their focus to reforming the filibuster, but this too proved to be a failure as Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema chose not to side with their fellow Democrats. This decision all but killed meaningful voting rights reforms and placed the majority of Senate Democrats’ already stalled agenda in jeopardy.

In an effort to salvage their agenda as we head towards the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats now hope to pass key pieces of Build Back Better as separate bills. Whether or not this is possible remains up in the air, but the outlook for passage is increasingly grim. On Feb. 1, Sen. Manchin declared that the bill was ‘dead’ and cast even further doubt over its future by voicing his opposition to increased federal spending a week later — after inflation rose at the quickest pace in 40 years in January. 

These setbacks and delays in passing critical legislation have a domino effect that will disproportionately impact those affected by and vulnerable to HIV. The bills included in Build Back Better are critical pieces to ending the HIV epidemic, especially when it comes to closing the Medicaid coverage gap, which would allow an additional 4 million people access to health insurance coverage. 

Also impacting people living with and vulnerable to HIV is access to the right to vote. AIDS United has long said that voting is HIV advocacy, and ensuring that all people have the right to vote is critical to ensure our voices are heard as we work alongside members of Congress to end the HIV epidemic. However, these hopes have been dashed as inaction on the filibuster reform continues. 

The failure of the filibuster reform has largely dashed Democrats’ hopes of passing comprehensive voting rights legislation in the near future. The issue is now on the backburner.

A voting rights package would have been particularly timely, as states across the country continue to ramp up restrictions on voting. Some examples include legislation requiring increasingly strict documentation for voters and actions to cut both early and mail-in voting. These dangerous provisions have an outsized impact on Black, Brown and Indigenous communities alongside disabled and chronically ill communities, LGBTQ+ folks and the elderly —  communities who are also disproportionately vulnerable to HIV.

Limiting access to the vote creates barriers for the most marginalized among us to advance our rights and demand change. The right to vote is key to HIV advocacy, and ending the epidemic means ending voter suppression.

So, what’s next?

Despite holding a narrow majority in Congress, Democrats have had a difficult time passing most of their legislation. If nothing changes, the HIV community will continue to face disproportionate harm from this inaction, as the Build Back Better plan includes increased funding for health care systems. 

The AIDS United Policy Department will continue to monitor this ongoing issue and keep people living with and vulnerable to HIV up to date in the coming weeks.