Sunday, July 15, 2007

The House last week renewed an abstinence-education program and a transitional health care program, which expired last month, until the end of September.

Both programs expired June 30 when the House failed to act on the issues, which have traditionally been renewed together. The Senate passed its three-month extension of the programs last month.

The House voted 291-126 on Wednesday to renew the programs until Sept. 30, and the bill is now headed to President Bush for his signature.

The Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA) program, which temporarily continues Medicaid for families leaving welfare, “enjoys wide-ranging bipartisan support,” Rep. Gene Green, Texas Democrat, said before the vote.

With abstinence education, Mr. Green said, “there is no shortage of debate or opinion,” but he said the $50 million-a-year Title V program should be extended, “at least for the short term,” so low-income families wouldn’t lose their health care.

Rep. Howard Coble, North Carolina Republican, also urged support for the extension.

It is important to “support the goals of abstinence education and not get bogged down by the politics that inevitably surround the concept,” Mr. Coble said, reading from a statement by Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over both programs.

Voting to extend the programs were 218 Democrats and 73 Republicans, including Mr. Barton. Democratic supporters included committee Chairman John D. Dingell of Michigan, who had raised hopes — and fears — that he would defund Title V, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, whose office wrote a scathing report about abstinence education in 2004.

Voting against the extension were 124 Republicans, including Mr. Coble. The objection, according to a Republican aide, was because the measure was paid for by an offset in a Medicare fund.

Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association praised the extension, noting that parents support abstinence education for their teens by a 2-to-1 margin.

But groups that support comprehensive sex education were dismayed by the extension as well as by a House committee vote that boosted funding in the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program by $27.8 million, to $141 million.

“In one inglorious motion, Democratic leaders sold out the health and well-being of young people, delivered a public slap in the face to evidence-based public health and made a mockery of their ‘prevention first’ message,” James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, said after the House Appropriations Committee approved a Labor, Health and Human Services and Education budget with higher funding for CBAE.

Last month, a Senate appropriations panel voted to cut CBAE funds by $28.5 million. Sex-education advocates said they will urge the House to agree to the CBAE cuts, but one advocate said privately it also appeared that the net result could be level funding.

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