House-Senate Negotiators Reach Deal on Omnibus Spending Bill, Including $2.4B for AIDS; Vote Scheduled for Next Month
House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday reached an agreement on an $820 billion omnibus spending bill that includes seven of the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal year 2004, including $2.4 billion for the global AIDS initiative, the Washington Post reports (Pianin, Washington Post, 11/26). House-Senate conferees last week agreed to increase federal spending on the global AIDS initiative for FY 2004 to $2.4 billion, $400 million more than the Bush administration has requested. Although the measure (HR 1298) supporting the five-year, $15 billion 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." The Senate last month approved an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), to the foreign operations appropriations bill (S 1426) that would add $289 million in additional funding for the first year of the initiative. The amendment brought total Senate funding to $2.4 billion for FY 2004. The House had approved $2.1 billion for the initiative. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) on Nov. 5 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, 11/18). The omnibus spending bill includes a total of $2.4 billion for AIDS programs, as well as $1 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account, according to the Post (Washington Post, 11/26). The MCA is an assistance program for developing nations that encourages democracy and development through economic aid (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/18).
The House is set to vote on the bill on Dec. 8, and the Senate will reconvene to discuss the measure on Dec. 9. However, Senate Republicans have said that they are unsure that the measure will pass, the New York Times reports (Firestone, New York Times, 11/26). Democrats and some Republicans have been frustrated with the Bush administration's "unyielding stance" and threats to veto the bill if it conflicts with the administration's stance on issues such as overtime pay, school vouchers, gun background checks and television network ownership, according to the AP/Albany Times Union (Fram, AP/Albany Times Union, 11/26). In order to reach an agreement on the issues, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said that negotiators may be forced to take the bill back to conference committee, which would "reope[n] negotiations on a host of policy disputes," according to the Los Angeles Times (Anderson, Los Angeles Times, 11/26). If the measure does not pass, the 11 federal agencies covered under the measure will have to operate at last year's spending levels until Congress returns in January. Spending on the global AIDS initiative could be delayed until January or later, according to the New York Times (New York Times, 11/26).
New York Times Editorial
Congress has "failed to meet its most basic responsibility -- approving the bills that pay for another year's government" even though funding for federal agencies is "already two months overdue," a New York Times editorial says. The delay in reaching a compromise on this legislation "will likely shortchange such headlined priorities" as the global AIDS initiative, the editorial says, concluding that the omnibus bill is a "groaning board of bad ideas," and "[w]e can only hope that a holiday epiphany will sway Congress to reduce the damage when they return" (New York Times, 11/26).