Bono Says He, President Bush ‘Can’t Agree’ on Funding Amount for First Year of Global AIDS Initiative
Irish rock star Bono -- founder of DATA, an AIDS, debt relief and trade advocacy group -- said he and President Bush had "a good old row" during a meeting yesterday at the White House in which Bono urged the president to spend $3 billion in fiscal year 2004 on the first year of the U.S. global AIDS initiative, the Washington Post reports. Bono said, "We just can't agree on the numbers" (Allen, Washington Post, 9/17). Although the measure (HR 1298) supporting Bush's five-year, $15 billion initiative to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean authorizes $3 billion for the first year of the program, the Bush administration has requested only $2 billion. The Senate last week rejected an amendment to the FY 2004 labor, health and education services appropriations bill (HR 2660) that would have added $1 billion to the roughly $2 billion appropriated by the Senate for the initiative. The House has approved approximately $2 billion for the AIDS initiative in FY 2004. DATA estimates that the additional $1 billion could prevent 1.6 million HIV infections in Africa. During a July press conference, Bush said that his administration requested less than $3 billion in funding for the first year of the initiative in order to give the program time to "ramp up." Bush said, "We sent up something less than $3 billion because we didn't think the program could ramp up fast enough to absorb that amount of money early" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/16). Bono said that he believes that African nations and aid organizations have the capacity to absorb the money now (Batchelor, Cox/Baltimore Sun, 9/17). Bono added that Bush is "in [the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa] for the long term, but the spirit of what was in that State of the Union [speech in January] is what we need now -- that we'll get the drugs to them on motorcycles or bicycles, if we need to. That spirit is being lost a little in the bureaucracy."
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said that the Bush administration wants "to make sure that the money is spent effectively and that there's accountability for that money." According to the McClellan, the amount of money appropriated to the initiative will continue to increase over five years. Aides said that the administration plans to meet the $15 billion pledge by requesting $2 billion for FY 2004, $2.4 billion for FY 2005, $3 billion for FY 2006, $3.6 billion for FY 2007 and $3.8 billion for FY 2008, according to the Post. "This is one of the president's highest priorities," McClellan added. However, DATA Executive Director Jamie Drummond said that $2 billion in the first year is "not historic" because Congress had approved for this year $1.5 billion for African AIDS relief, before Bush announced his initiative (Washington Post, 9/17). According to administration spokesperson Claire Buchan, federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs has increased 164% since Bush took office, according to Cox/Baltimore Sun (Cox/Baltimore Sun, 9/17).
Religious Leaders Push for More Money
Following his meeting with Bush, Bono, along with representatives of DATA and several religious-based organizations, held a press conference at St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House to urge the administration and Congress to fully fund the AIDS initiative. Bishop John Ricard, international policy chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, "The millions who are dying of AIDS, malaria, contaminated water and malnutrition cannot wait. Meeting these commitments is not just a question of dollars, but of ethical responsibility and national credibility" (Soulas, Washington Times, 9/17). Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a not-for-profit organization aimed at ending world hunger, said, "If you don't keep the promise the first year, the rest is going to be a joke" (Cox/Baltimore Sun, 9/17). Bono said, "I'm not here peddling a cause. Seven thousand people dying a day is not a cause. It's an emergency" (Bohan, Reuters, 9/16). Bono added that he hopes Bush will use his "bully pulpit" to demand more money from Congress, the Post reports. "I do believe [Bush is] sincere, and his team is sincere. They're just not moving fast enough," Bono said (Washington Post, 9/17).
A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of the DATA press conference, which includes Bono, along with representatives of Bread for the World, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and World Vision, is available online.