Senate and House Committees Delay Action on AIDS Bills
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has delayed a vote scheduled for today on legislation to finance global AIDS prevention and treatment efforts, the Washington Times reports (Fagan, Washington Times, 3/20). A House Committee on International Relations markup of an AIDS bill (HR 1298) set for today has also been postponed until further notice (Committee on International Relations release, 3/19). The Senate vote has been postponed due to concern from "top Republicans" and the Bush administration that the measure "does not adequately promote abstinence over condom use," according to the Times. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who sponsored the measure, declined to comment on specific provisions because they were "still being worked on," according to the Times. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a member of the committee, said that the bill is not modeled on Uganda's "Abstinence, Be Faithful, or use Condoms" campaign and that it should place further emphasis on monogamy and abstinence. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) in a memo to Lugar offered suggestions for improving the bill and asked for the inclusion of provisions calling for the elimination of the sex trade and commercial sex work; confidential notification to the wives of HIV-positive men; and support for the "ABC" approach to HIV/AIDS prevention. There has also been debate over how much of the money should be given to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The House bill authorizes the president to give up to $1 billion to the fund in the first year of the program (Washington Times, 3/20). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/18). The Lugar bill does not specify how much money should be given to the fund.
The Bush administration "remain[s] optimistic" that these issues can be resolved, according to the Times. White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said that the Senate bill should be based on the ABC model, adding that the administration is "committed to and continuing to work with leaders in the Senate and in the House to get legislation passed that is consistent with what the president outlined." Connie Mackey, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council, said of the Senate measure, "We want to make sure that (condom distribution) is not the main part of the outreach." An unnamed House Republican aide said that the Senate bill does "mention abstinence, but that doesn't mean it's a priority," adding, "There's nothing in the Lugar bill that would change our current policy" (Washington Times, 3/19). The International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care yesterday urged "swift passage" of the House legislation. "This legislation is worthy of the support of the international HIV community," José Zuniga, IAPAC president and CEO, said. The inclusion of the ABC approach in the measure is important as it "empowers individuals to choose other methods of protecting themselves," Zuniga said (IAPAC release, 3/19). Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations at Concerned Women for America, said that the House bill should require that most of the money is spent on HIV/AIDS treatment and should include "opt-out" language for faith-based groups that do not want to participate in condom distribution, according to the Times (Washington Times, 3/19).