But first . . .

Craig: ‘Even when the facts don’t support your claim on the Reagan Administration and AIDS, with support for research doubling every year from 82 to ’86, what did you want the President to do, look into the microscope himself? Any Poly Sci 101 student knows laws are originated in the House with lobbying help coming from special interest groups such as ACT-UP. It seems to me that government was working and responding rather well.’

☞ I hear your frustration, Craig. What do these people want from us? But there’s frustration on the other side, too. As you know, tens of millions people, each one as real as you or me, are now infected with AIDS. As recounted in Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle, President Reagan did not publicly discuss AIDS in any meaningful way until late in his second term, after more than 20,000 mostly-young Americans had died and the disease had spread to 113 countries. Another President might have sounded the alarm, or expressed concern, after just five or ten thousand deaths.

According to the Chronicle piece:

Dr. C. Everett Koop, Reagan’s surgeon general, has said that because of “intradepartmental politics” he was cut out of all AIDS discussions for the first five years of the Reagan administration. The reason, he explained, was “because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs.” The president’s advisers, Koop said, “took the stand, ‘They are only getting what they justly deserve.'”

Some people still feel this way. That’s a topic for another day.

As for laws originating in the House, I was under the impression that either the House or the Senate could introduce legislation – but that not infrequently the impetus for legislation, and spending priorities and budgets, come from the White House.

From June 1981 to June 1982 [recounts the cheerfully titled Encyclopedia of AIDS], the period generally considered the first twelve months of the epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spent $1 million on AIDS, compared with $9 million in response to the much smaller problem of Legionnaires’ disease. In late 1982, Congress allocated $2.6 million to be targeted for the CDC’s AIDS research, but the Reagan administration claimed that the CDC did not need the money and opposed any congressional supplemental appropriations designed to fund federal governmental AIDS policy efforts.

In the absence of presidential leadership, Congress was forced to ascertain on its own how much money doctors working inside government needed to address the AIDS epidemic. The Reagan administration resisted these efforts but refused to exercise an on-the-record veto of supplementary AIDS funding efforts. In the crucial early years of the epidemic, when federal resources could have been profitably spent on basic research and prevention education, federal AIDS researchers relied on supplemental funding in the form of continuing resolutions initiated by Congress. Year after year, Congress significantly increased AIDS funding relative to the Reagan budgetary proposals.

For those really interested in the early years of this plague – which could reach into the hundreds of millions of victims in the decade ahead – there is Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played On.

Okay . . . tomorrow: The Presidential Debates – An Interesting Preview


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