House Lawmakers Announce $15B Compromise Legislation To Fund Bush’s AIDS Initiative, Avoid ‘Mexico City’ Policy Language
Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chair of the International Relations Committee, and Tom Lantos (D-Calif)., the committee's ranking Democrat, yesterday unveiled legislation that would authorize spending $3 billion annually for five years to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide, after "compromising on how the money would be used," the AP/Boston Globe reports. Of those funds, 55% would be earmarked for treatment, and most of the remainder would go toward prevention efforts and palliative care. In addition, the measure calls for up to $1 billion of the funds for fiscal year 2004 to go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the fund would receive "such funds as necessary" in subsequent years of the initiative (Abrams, AP/Boston Globe, 3/18). The bill also calls for the United States to contribute no more than 33% of the Global Fund's total budget, which means that other countries would have to contribute a total of $2 billion to the fund next year in order for the United States to give the full $1 billion authorized in the legislation, Reuters Health reports. The measure would also establish a new federal task force to act as a "shadow" for the Global Fund as "part of an effort to allay fears among many Republicans that the fund is inefficient." In addition, the legislation authorizes funding for projects throughout the world, whereas President Bush's plan, which he announced in his State of the Union address in January, focused on 15 countries in Africa and the Caribbean (Zwillich, Reuters Health, 3/17). The bill also supports the "ABC" approach to fighting HIV/AIDS, which focuses on abstinence, being faithful and -- "when appropriate" -- using condoms.
'Mexico City' Policy
The compromise legislation also "sidestep[s] a divisive abortion issue" by agreeing to not apply the "Mexico City" policy to the funding, allowing money to go to organizations and clinics that provide both AIDS-related and family planning services, including abortion (AP/Boston Globe, 3/18). The "Mexico City" 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" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/17). The Bush administration had shown support for extending the policy to HIV/AIDS efforts, the AP/Globe reports (AP/Boston Globe, 3/18). Hyde has reportedly told lawmakers on both sides of the debate "not to raise the abortion issue" when the measure is up for debate by the full House, according to Reuters Health. Sam Stratman, a Hyde spokesperson, said, "The need for this money is self-evident. ... Hyde believes that any efforts to bring the Mexico City policy into this bill threatens its passage" (Reuters Health, 3/17). Some Republicans and antiabortion lawmakers could still try to "persist as the proposal moves through Congress," which leaves the bill's "fate uncertain," the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/17). The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote Thursday on a similar measure (AP/Boston Globe, 3/18).
Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, lauded the bill as demonstrating "seriousness and realism" about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, adding that the measure "sets a number that we like. It's better than the $200 million that the president is asking" be given to the Global Fund (Reuters Health, 3/17). "It's now up to [Congress] to actually provide the level of resources recommended by the sponsors of this bill," Zeitz added (GAA release, 3/17). Mark Isaac, vice president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, said, "If funded speedily and implemented efficiently, this bill could truly be a turning point in the world's efforts to stop the deadly AIDS pandemic" (EGPAF release, 3/17). White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius said, "The administration is pleased that Congress is working to move forward on this important initiative by crafting legislation" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/17). On Friday, more than 300 lawmakers, public health practitioners and religious leaders from around the world sent a letter to Bush opposing the expansion of the Mexico City policy and calling on the administration to abandon the policy. The letter stated, "Doing so will save the lives of hundreds of thousands of women throughout the world each year. It will give your stated commitment to compassion and to family values some serious meaning" (Center for Health and Gender Equity release, 3/14). Jodi Jacobson, executive director of CHANGE, said, "If the administration has in fact changed its position on gagging HIV funding, it should make this decision public" (CHANGE release, 3/14). Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "The gag rule would have cost lives. It was a purely political move to exclude trusted community family planning providers already in place and doing the important work of HIV/AIDS prevention." She added, "[W]e hope the money from this historic legislation will go directly to those local organizations that best understand the unique health needs of women" (Planned Parenthood release, 3/17).