House Expected To Approve Global AIDS Legislation; Bill’s Future ‘Cloudy’ in Senate
The House today is expected to pass an international HIV/AIDS bill (HR 1298) that would authorize $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, but details of the bill are "clouding the measure's future in the closely divided Senate," the Baltimore Sun reports (Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, 5/1). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), would authorize $3 billion a year for five years to international HIV/AIDS programs, with up to $1 billion in fiscal year 2004 going to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Hyde's bill endorses the "ABC" HIV prevention model -- abstinence, be faithful, use condoms -- which has had success in lowering AIDS prevalence rates in Uganda. The bill also allows international organizations that counsel about abortion to receive U.S. funding on the condition that family planning and abortion programs be financed and run separately (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/30). Although the bill's passage in the House today is "all but certain," an "intense" debate of the bill's provisions for funding abstinence programs is expected, and the outcome of today's debate could "determine how strongly Senate Republicans push the abstinence issue in their version" of the bill, the Sun reports. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said, "Extreme conservatives would like to see us put all our eggs in the abstinence basket." Some conservatives are concerned because they believe Republican leaders have "sacrificed core provisions to secure enough votes to win passage," the Sun reports. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said, "If the White House tells millions of pro-family voters that they're not interested in seriously promoting our values in the formation of U.S. policy in Africa, then that will greatly undermine the support for the White House and for the U.S. Congress" among conservatives. He added, "I really do believe this is a watershed vote."
Some House Republicans are expected to support amending the bill to include provisions that would channel funds directly to abstinence-until-marriage counseling (Baltimore Sun, 5/1). Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) is expected to introduce an amendment that would specifically allocate one-third of the bill's funding for abstinence programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/30). Another amendment, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), would strengthen "conscience" language already in the bill to "assure that religious groups are not denied funds because they object to certain aspects of prevention programs," including condom distribution, the AP/Augusta Chronicle reports. Hyde helped to craft the amendments so that they would be "acceptable" to Democrats, and he said that bipartisanship was necessary to take on "one of the great moral and physical challenges of our time." Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said, "Those two amendments will certainly improve the bill," but he added that the direction of money to the Global Fund remains a "glaring defect" of the bill (Abrams, AP/Augusta Chronicle, 5/1). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who has been a "leading proponent" of the AIDS initiative, said he hopes to debate the measure in the Senate within the next two weeks, the Sun reports (Baltimore Sun, 5/1). Frist said on Tuesday that his goal is to pass legislation by the end of this month (AP/Augusta Chronicle, 5/1). Bush asked Congress to send him the measure by Memorial Day (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/30).
Drug Maker Lobby
Some "big behind-the-scenes" support for Bush's HIV/AIDS initiative has come from pharmaceutical companies and other firms with a "financial stake in combating the disease," the Washington Post reports. Several Republicans involved in the push for the bill have said that drug makers, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Abbott Laboratories, are giving up to $40,000 each to join two "pro-Bush groups backed by the president and his aides," according to the Post. Abbott CEO Miles White said that drug makers are involved because "we recognize the magnitude of the problem" of HIV/AIDS and it calls for a "magnitude of resources and attention that is way beyond the ability" of one company. Terry Holt, head of the Corporate Task Force on AIDS and former Bush campaign aide, said that Abbott, Bristol-Myers and Pfizer each contributed $15,000 to support a "shoe leather" lobbying campaign in support of Bush's HIV/AIDS initiative, according to the Post. John Vandenheuvel, a Republican strategist working for the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa, which focuses on "generating support for the [president's HIV/AIDS] plan outside of Congress" and is co-chaired by former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), said that although contributing to the project does make companies "look good," there "really is a practical matter for all these companies doing business in Africa. All the major multinational pharmaceuticals have some type of (AIDS) program they are already using and would like to have it utilized as part of the (Bush) plan" (VandeHei, Washington Post, 5/1).
A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of the House floor debate will be available online later today.
NPR's "Tavis Smiley Show" yesterday reported on Bush's HIV/AIDS proposals. The segment includes comments from Connor and Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood (Keyes, "Tavis Smiley Show," NPR, 4/30). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.