Senate Passes $15 Billion International AIDS Bill With Amendment Expanding Debt Relief
The Senate early this morning approved by voice vote an international HIV/AIDS bill (HR 1298) that would authorize $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, including an amendment that would increase funding for debt relief in countries hit hardest by HIV/AIDS, the Los Angeles Times reports (Anderson, Los Angeles Times, 5/16). The House earlier this month approved the measure, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), which 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/14). The package recommends that 55% of direct aid go to treatment programs, 20% to programs aimed at preventing HIV infections, 15% to palliative care and 10% to programs assisting children who have lost one or both of their parents due to AIDS-related causes (AP/New York Times, 5/16). The bill endorses the "ABC" HIV prevention model -- abstinence, be faithful, use condoms -- which has had success in lowering AIDS prevalence rates in Uganda. 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. The measure also specifically allocates one-third of the bill's HIV/AIDS prevention funding for abstinence programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/14). The bill also would provide financial assistance "for the purpose of encouraging men to be responsible in their sexual behavior, child rearing and to respect women," the Washington Post reports (Eilperin, Washington Post, 5/16).
To ensure swift passage of the measure, Senate Republicans "beat back" several amendments proposed by Democrats and approved only an amendment sponsored by Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to increase funding for debt relief, according to the Times. The Senate voted 52-45 to defeat a measure sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would have removed the provision allocating one-third of prevention funding for abstinence programs (Los Angeles Times, 5/16). Republicans also defeated an amendment sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) that would have required that antiretroviral drugs used in the bill's treatment programs be purchased at the lowest possible price (Kenen, Reuters, 5/16). In addition, an amendment sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) that would have strengthened U.S. commitments to the Global Fund and an amendment sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) that would have provided $250 million in food aid were also defeated (AP/New York Times, 5/16). The House is expected to approve the Biden amendment next week, sending the bill to President Bush in time for the Group of Eight summit of world leaders in Evian, France, held the first week of June (Abrams, AP/Boston Globe, 5/16).
According to Reuters, President Bush is "eager" to sign the measure before the G-8 meeting in order to "spur other nations to step up their commitments" to the fight against AIDS (Reuters, 5/16). Bush last night in a statement issued after the vote said, "This historic legislation will enable us to provide critical treatment and care for millions who suffer and greatly expand successful prevention programs to help those at risk" (Agence France-Presse, 5/16). Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) expressed disappointment that the Senate was not able to remove the abstinence funding requirement in the bill, saying "We should be supporting a wide variety of prevention strategies instead of prioritizing one over another" (Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/16). On Thursday, a coalition of African diplomats issued a statement in support of the measure, saying, "The African ambassadors and the entire African diplomatic corps in the United States are united in their efforts to highlight the urgency for action against the impending menace of AIDS/HIV. Time is of the essence. America must send a signal to the rest of the world that action by all countries is needed" (Agence France-Presse, 5/16). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said, "History will look back on this day as the first step in responding to one of the great public health challenges of the 21st century" (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/16).