Frist Withdraws Support for Senate AIDS Bill Passed Last Year; Instead Supports ‘Weaker’ White House Draft of Bill
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has withdrawn support from a "sweeping" bill he sponsored to combat HIV/AIDS worldwide, which passed the Senate last year, and he is now supporting a "greatly weaken[ed]" White House draft bill, Long Island Newsday reports. According to a copy of the new draft bill, the measure would "strip all specific funding levels" for AIDS programs; substitute the word "should" for "shall" in several mandates; remove all congressional oversight requirements; and eliminate a stipulation that $2.2 billion be earmarked for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Newsday reports. Instead, the White House draft bill replaces the $2.2 billion figure with the phrase "such sums as may be necessary," according to Newsday. The announcement comes just weeks after President Bush in his State of the Union address announced a $15 billion, five-year initiative to fight HIV/AIDS in African and Caribbean nations (Hoy, Long Island Newsday, 2/13). The plan includes $10 billion in new money. Under the initiative, new funds averaging an additional $2 billion per year would be phased in gradually to supplement the $1 billion per year the government now spends on AIDS; only $1 billion total would go to the Global Fund (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/12). Frist's earlier version of the bill (HR 2069) -- a combination of two measures passed in July by the Senate -- would have authorized nearly $5 billion over two years in spending to help curb the HIV transmission worldwide. The first measure (S 2525) would have authorized about $4.5 billion in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 for the Global Fund. Sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Frist and supported by former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the bill also would have required the United States to develop a five-year plan to reduce worldwide AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses, including tuberculosis and malaria. The second measure (S 2649) included in the bill would have given the HHS secretary the authority to implement HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services in developing countries (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/15/02).
'Significant Step Back'
Bob Stevenson, a spokesperson for Frist, said that the senator is "trying to work with the White House," adding, "We have an unprecedented commitment from the White House to release this money." However, critics have called the changes a "significant step back," according to Newsday. Dr. Paul Zeitz, head of the Global AIDS Alliance, "express[ed] particular concern" about the lack of naming specific funding for the Global fund, Newsday reports. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) said, "[T]he resulting product has to have ... a serious commitment to the global AIDS fund because that's how you leverage a lot of money from other sources." Some Democrats, including Kerry, have said they will work to include money for the Global Fund in the bill, according to Newsday. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would attempt to introduce a bipartisan alternative to the bill. Lugar said that he does not think that Frist has "abandoned" the goals he laid out in last year's bill but that he is "attempting to coordinate his thinking with that of the White House." According to Newsday, administration officials "have serious concerns" about the administration of Global Fund money. They believe that bilateral programs administered by U.S. agencies would allow them to more closely monitor how nations utilize U.S. funding, Newsday reports (Long Island Newsday, 2/13).
Frist yesterday in a speech to the AARP "spent more time talking to the senior group about global AIDS" than about Medicare, CongressDaily reports. Frist said that "if we don't act, there's no stopping" the epidemic (Rovner, CongressDaily, 2/13). A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of Frist's speech is available online.