Sens. DeWine, Santorum Encourage Conference Committee To Approve $2.4B for First Year of Global AIDS Initiative
Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) on Thursday held a press conference urging a House-Senate conference committee to support Senate-approved AIDS funding levels -- $2.4 billion -- for the first year of the global AIDS initiative, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (MacPherson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/14). The Senate last month approved an amendment to the foreign operations appropriations bill (S 1426) that would add $289 million in additional funding for the first year of the five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative. The amendment, sponsored by DeWine, would increase federal spending on the initiative for fiscal year 2004 to $2.4 billion, $400 million more than the Bush administration has requested. The House has approved $2.1 billion for the initiative. Although the measure (HR 1298) supporting the initiative authorizes $3 billion for the first year of the program, the Bush administration has requested only $2 billion. Bush said that his administration requested less than $3 billion in order to give the program time to "ramp up" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/6). At the press conference, DeWine and Santorum urged the conferees to agree to the $2.4 billion, saying that Senate Republicans were "prepared to fight" for the funding. However, Santorum expressed concern about where increased funding would come from, saying, "One of the biggest questions is, where do we get the money to pay for this? I'm not worried about how we do it; I just want to make sure we do it" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/14). Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) last week introduced a motion urging House-Senate conferees to maintain the higher level of funding for the global AIDS initiative as outlined in the Senate version of the foreign operations appropriations bill (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/6). The conference committee is scheduled to meet next week to make a final decision on the funding levels.
"The Senate's position would save lives and money -- it's that simple, and it's that important," Jamie Drummond, executive director of DATA, an AIDS, trade and debt relief advocacy organization founded by Irish rock star Bono, said. DATA estimates that the additional funding approved by the Senate would prevent 500,000 new HIV infections, treat more than 200,000 people who would otherwise die and provide care for hundreds of thousands of AIDS orphans. In addition, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) urging the Senate to "stand firm" on the AIDS funding levels during the conference committee, according to the Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/14).