Senate Majority Leader Frist To Bring House-Passed Global AIDS Bill To Floor Next Week
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) next week is planning to bring the House-passed global AIDS bill (HR 1298) to the Senate floor for discussion, hoping to pass it before the Memorial Day recess and before the upcoming G8 summit, the Wall Street Journal reports (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 5/9). The House last week approved the bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), which would authorize $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The bill 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. In addition, the bill would 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, 5/5). Frist said, "This will be the cleanest and most efficient way to go."
Foreign Relations Committee
If Frist introduces the bill to the full Senate, he will bypass "old allies" on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who support a "more aggressive U.S. commitment to multilateral efforts" against HIV/AIDS abroad, the Journal reports. According to committee Chair Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Frist "feels the president feels it is the most likely way to getting a bill passed," adding that Bush "very much wants to get an AIDS bill passed." According to the Journal, Lugar, ranking Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Wednesday filed their own bill in anticipation of the House-passed bill being called up. The Journal reports that a "specific battleground" in the Senate may be the Global Fund. The Foreign Relations bill would be "more generous and impos[e] fewer conditions on when U.S. contributions will be made" to the fund, authorizing as much as $2.2 billion for the fund over the next two years. Biden said, "I want more for the Global Fund and less of the restrictions." Final funding will have to be reexamined before the foreign aid budget is finalized in the fall, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 5/9). A 51-page General Accounting Office report released earlier this week found that the Global Fund's biggest problem was a lack of resources (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/8).
Thirteen groups yesterday sent a letter to Frist calling for the Senate to take up the House-passed bill "without amendment" to avoid a "vigorous fight from both the right and the left regarding final language" that would "upset the balance that was achieved on the issue in the House." The letter says, "While the bill as passed by the House is far from perfect in our view, in the spirit of political compromise and in light of the urgency of the AIDS crisis in Africa, we are willing to support the bill being sent to the President since the House succeeded in adding a few key amendments we considered critical," including directing funds for abstinence programs and creating Global Fund oversight. If the bill is going to be amended, the groups said they would support amendments calling for "greater accountability, oversight and a hard cap" on the amount and use of U.S. contributions to the Global Fund. The Family Research Council; the Religious Freedom Coalition; the Population Research Institute; Kids First Coalition; the Wilberforce Forum; Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.; Focus on the Family; the Christian Coalition of America; the Beverly LaHaye Institute; the American Family Association; Prison Fellowship Ministries; Concerned Women for America; and the Traditional Values Coalition all signed the letter (Letter text, 5/8).
In an interview with kaisernetwork.org, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chair of the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, spoke about the U.S. role in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, progress to date by the Global Fund and the prospect for funding global HIV/AIDS initiatives in this year's budget. Kolbe said, "Nobody can doubt the scope of this pandemic, and everybody that I know that's an expert in the field feels it's going to get worse. In Africa we see its consequences very starkly. ... Not only is it a moral question for us, but it has real national security implications." Regarding U.S. funding for the Global Fund next year, Kolbe said that Bush "only requested $200 million, and we will be substantially over that." He added that while the Global Fund has "growing pains" and faces "governance issues," the fund is working "extraordinarily well" and the recent GAO report on the fund, which was requested by Kolbe, "suggests that it's done an awful lot very well, very quickly." The HealthCast is now available online.