Congress May Appropriate Significantly Less Than Requested for AIDS Initiative, Millennium Challenge Account
Congressional appropriators may approve "hundreds of millions of dollars less" than President Bush requested for foreign assistance in fiscal year 2004, although Bush "[f]or months" has "basked in praise" for his proposals to boost foreign aid and fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, the Washington Post reports. Concern among some aid advocates that Bush's proposed programs may not be funded at their suggested levels has increased since congressional appropriations committees announced their plan for divvying up money for FY 2004, which begins Oct. 1. The allocation for the House subcommittee that overseas aid spending was $17.1 billion, which is a 5.5% increase over the current spending level but "well under" the $18.9 billion the Bush administration requested to fund the initial year of the Millennium Challenge Account -- a program that calls for increasing aid to developing countries in exchange for a range of political and economic reforms -- and the five-year, $15 billion AIDS initiative (HR 1298), which Bush signed into law last month, the Post reports. The allocation for the Senate provided $18.1 billion to the foreign operations subcommittee. According to the Post, the amounts "signaled to aid advocates that a tough fight will have to be waged to secure overall congressional approval for the amounts Bush proposed to spend next year on the two new initiatives, while keeping his promise that the new spending would be in addition to -- not instead of -- current aid outlays."
Scott McClellan, the new White House spokesperson, noting the recent passage and signing of Bush's international AIDS initiative, said, "We are confident that Congress will make sure that funding is available for these high priorities," adding, "It's still early in the legislative process." However, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign relations, said that neither initiative will likely receive the funding requested by the administration for FY 2004 because the programs are not ready to spend those amounts. "We will have sufficient funds to do what we need to do with AIDS and with the Millennium Challenge Account," Kolbe said, adding that the amounts requested by Bush "assume that you have full-blown programs up and running on Oct. 1, and that's not the case. ... They have not named coordinators and have to get a staff together for contracting and procurement." Kolbe said that Congress "will do more than ever before in development assistance and HIV/AIDS" and he expects that Congress will "ramp up" the programs' spending levels in the future. Jamie Drummond, executive director of DATA, an aid organization founded by Irish rock star Bono to promote debt relief, aid and trade in Africa, said that Bush's proposals "were historic, but they won't be if they're not delivered." Drummond added, "The fact is, the president made a $10 billion, three-year promise called the Millennium Challenge Account and a $15 billion, five-year HIV/AIDS initiative, and he's received a lot of justified applause. But if those don't get delivered in their first year, the president's promises need to be looked at" (Blustein, Washington Post, 6/22).
A kaisernetwork.org interview with Kolbe, in which he discusses funding for the global AIDS bill, is available online.