AIDS Funding ‘Bogged Down in Partisan Disputes’ Over ‘Mexico City’ Policy, Funding Disbursement
Legislation enacting President Bush's proposed increase in funding for global AIDS -- $15 billion over five years, including $10 billion in new money -- is getting "bogged down in partisan disputes" over how to disburse the funds and whether agencies receiving the funds should be subject to the so-called "Mexico City" policy, which prohibits federal aid from going to groups that fund or promote abortion, the New York Times reports. Democrats and Republicans are "at odds" over whether the bulk of the funding should go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria or be disbursed by the State Department. The Bush administration, which says that the Global Fund "does not have a proven track record," wants to allocate only $200 million to the fund this year, leaving the majority of the proposed money to be distributed by the State Department, according to the Times. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he supports the administration's position and has removed his name from legislation, which he sponsored last year with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), that would have authorized $2.2 billion over two years for the Global Fund.
Congress has also become embattled in debate over the president's plan to extend the Mexico City policy to apply to the new funding (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 3/6). The policy -- which was originally implemented by President Reagan at a population conference in Mexico City in 1984, removed by President Clinton and reinstated by Bush on the first day of his presidency -- "bars U.S. money from international groups that support abortion, even with their own money, through direct services, counseling or lobbying activities." Under the policy, outlined by a senior Bush administration official in a Feb. 11 memo to the State Department, social services groups that deal with abortion services would have to administer AIDS programs separately from family planning programs in order to receive funds from the administration's new AIDS initiative (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/5). Some conservatives, such as Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), want the White House to write the policy into law, but others on both sides of the issue said that such a move could "derail" the passage of an AIDS funding bill, according to the Times. Frist and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chair of the House International Relations Committee and an antiabortion advocate, have been trying to discourage colleagues from pushing for the insertion of such language into a bill. "I want the AIDS bill to pass and I think misdirected attention to other issues might overly burden the AIDS bill," Hyde said.
Both Houses Drafting Legislation
The partisan disagreements have led to difficulties on both sides in drafting legislation to enact the president's proposed funding. In the House, lawmakers are "nearing a deal" on a bill, and Hyde in the next few days is expected to introduce legislation that would authorize the administration to spend $3 billion each year for the next five years on global AIDS. While the bill does not alter the total amount proposed by Bush, the measure allocates $1 billion more in the first year of the initiative. In the Senate, Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that he has "no idea" when the bipartisan measure he is working on will be ready, according to the Times. "It's a very difficult matter because there are a variety of people, all who want to do good in their own way," Lugar said, adding, "I would like to have gotten an AIDS bill concluded this week, but that's not possible given the differences of opinion." Many AIDS advocates fear that the delay caused by the partisan conflict may prevent a bill from passing if Congress becomes occupied with other issues related to the funding. "It could tie up the AIDS funding bill for weeks and weeks and weeks," Holly Burkhalter, an official with the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights, said of the Mexico City policy debate. She added, "If we don't pass a good global AIDS authorizing bill in the next couple of weeks I think our window is closing" (New York Times, 3/6).