International AIDS Funding Bills Hitting Bumps in Congressional Debate
Votes on bills that would allocate billions of dollars to fight global HIV/AIDS continue to be delayed in Congress due to disagreements about how to spend the money, the AP/Tampa Tribune reports. The House International Relations Committee on Wednesday is scheduled to vote on a five-year, $15 billion AIDS funding bill that "should win support from both parties"; however, congressional leaders are "at odds" with the Bush administration over which groups should receive the funds (Abrams, AP/Tampa Tribune, 4/1). President Bush in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28 proposed spending $15 billion over five years to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. 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 to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/12). Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), the committee's chair, is seeking $3 billion a year for HIV/AIDS, with up to $1 billion in fiscal year 2004 going to the Global Fund. The Bush administration has "questioned the efficiency" of the Global Fund, even though the fund recently picked HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson as its chair and the administration wants to provide $200 million to the fund annually. Some conservative groups have said that the Global Fund gives money to the United Nations Population Fund, which they mistrust because they say UNFPA "supports groups that carry out or advise women about abortion," according to the AP/Tribune. AIDS groups deny that the Global Fund provides money to UNFPA. Hyde, who opposes abortion rights, has avoided the abortion issue by excluding language from the bill that prohibits federal funding from going to health and family planning groups that perform or counsel on abortion (AP/Tampa Tribune, 4/1). The so-called "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, 3/18). Hyde's bill endorses the "ABC" approach of "abstinence, being faithful and, when appropriate, condoms," which "had some success" in Uganda, according to the AP/Tribune. However, Connie Mackey of the Family Research Council said that the measure "doesn't go far enough" to promote abstinence over condoms, according to the AP/Tribune.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), is also trying to "find a consensus" on a bill that would satisfy all parties. "It's going to take a little longer," Andy Fisher, Lugar's spokesperson, said. AIDS funding advocates are "not optimistic" that a consensus will be reached, according to the AP/Tribune. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, warned that the war in Iraq has distracted attention from the bill. "The idea of a bipartisan bill seems to be losing ground on the Senate side," he said, adding that the "window of opportunity" to move an AIDS funding bill through Congress may be closing, according to the AP/Tribune. "The worst possible outcome is to see it descend into partisan rancor," Mark Isaac, vice president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, said, adding, "It's a matter of such urgency that it is crucial the parties come together" (AP/Tampa Tribune, 4/1). A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of the House International Relations Committee markup of the AIDS funding bill will be available online at 9 a.m. on Thursday.