President Obama's budget released Thursday takes a step backward from a controversial political position he had taken during the presidential campaign.
Obama, during the primary campaign, pledged his support of needle exchange programs to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS. When he took over the White House, the administration website affirmed: "The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users."
Yet Obama's budget includes language that bans spending federal money on needle-exchange programs.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said the administration isn't yet ready to lift the ban - but Obama still supports needle exchange.
"We have not removed the ban in our budget proposal because we want to work with Congress and the American public to build support for this change," he said. "We are committed to doing this as part of a National HIV/AIDS strategy and are confident that we can build support for these scientifically-based programs."
He added, "In recent years, Washington has used the budget process to litigate divisive issues and score political points. This practice, which both sides have engaged in, has limited our ability to tackle our major economic challenges. President Obama decided not to play politics as usual with this budget and while he remains committed to supporting the program he wants to address that through the normal legislative process."
The White House website no longer features the president's support of the program, however. See the before and after here.
"It's hard to imagine how removing mention of support for a proven lifesaving program from the White House website is part of a grand strategy to 'build support' for syringe exchange," said Tom Angell, a spokesman for the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Obama's budget also includes a provision known as the "Barr Amendment," which prevents the District of Columbia from implementing a medical marijuana law that voters passed in an overwhelming referendum. Obama has pledged not to use Department of Justice resources to raid medical marijuana clinics in states where it is legal.
UPDATE: The Center for Global Health Policy writes in, noting that Obama also underfunded the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which funds a wide variety of prevention efforts, including needle exchange in Eastern Europe, where drug addiction and HIV/AIDS rates are both soaring:
Another major disappointment for global health advocates is the Obama proposal for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Countries rely on the Fund, in particular, for funding for tuberculosis programs, and so far the Fund has also provided over $600 million for health system strengthening. The Global Fund requested $2.7 billion from the US for 2010, but the Administration is proposing only $900 million, the same level as 2009. Unless Congress goes above the Administration's proposal, the US will miss a major opportunity to use the Fund to leverage more donations from Spain, Germany, and other countries, and AIDS, TB and malaria programs will be stalled.
Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America