Passing Global AIDS Bill Could Be ‘Political Coup’ for President Bush, Wall Street Journal Columnist Says
If Congress passes President Bush's proposed AIDS initiative, "it will be a political coup on all fronts," allowing him to "capitalize [politically] on the war against AIDS," Wall Street Journal columnist John Harwood says in his "Capital Journal" column (Harwood, Wall Street Journal, 5/14). The president during his State of the Union speech in January announced plans for an international AIDS initiative (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/7). The House earlier this month approved a bill (HR 1298) similar to that proposed by Bush. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), would authorize $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. It would also authorize $3 billion a year for five years for international HIV/AIDS programs, with up to $1 billion in fiscal year 2004 going to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday said that he will likely bring the bill to the Senate floor this week (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/14). The president's willingness to devote funding to the issue is a "product of converging trends," including increased attention to the African epidemic from conservative Christians -- a group important to Bush's power base, according to Harwood. In addition, media coverage that sent mainstream opinion "surging ahead of political leaders" on the need to more aggressively address HIV/AIDS and a need for Bush to soften his image after "bungled Iraq diplomacy." Also, the ascent of Frist to Senate majority leader "provided an ally with the motive and ability to deliver" on the proposed funding. Passing the measure would show world leaders at the upcoming G-8 summit in June that the president is willing to "deploy America's 'soft power,' after turning its hard power on Iraq." It would also "giv[e] flesh to the oft-neglected front end of his 'compassionate conservative' agenda" that is a "winner with women swing voters" and would also give Bush the opportunity to "steal an issue from his 2004 Democratic rivals." Harwood concludes that the AIDS epidemic has presented the president with a "rare" opportunity to act on an issue in which the "needs of the international community and the imperatives of U.S. politics are ... auspiciously aligned," adding that a successful AIDS initiative for the president would "steepen the Democrats' climb to defeat" him in the 2004 elections (Wall Street Journal, 5/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.