White House Pressing Republican Lawmakers To Vote on Omnibus Spending Bill, Including $2.4B for Global AIDS Initiative
The Bush administration is "actively" pressing Senate Republicans to vote on the $820 billion omnibus spending bill that includes seven of the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal year 2004 and $2.4 billion in funding for President Bush's global AIDS initiative, the Wall Street Journal reports (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 12/5). House-Senate conferees last month 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 omnibus spending bill includes a total of $2.4 billion for AIDS programs, as well as $1 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account, an assistance program for developing nations that encourages democracy and development through economic aid (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/26). Although the House is expected to take up the spending bill on Monday, it is unclear whether the Senate will return from Thanksgiving recess to vote on the measure, according to the Journal.
Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card this week "weighed in strongly" with Senate leaders, encouraging them to return for a vote, the Journal reports. Republican leaders have said that failing to approve the AIDS funds included in the spending bill could become a "huge embarrassment, with thousands dying of AIDS in Africa while lawmakers indulge in what critics say is a spectacle of pork-barrel, power politics," according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 12/5). Senate aides have said that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is opposed to asking senators to return for the vote. A Frist spokesperson said that Frist plans to ask for a unanimous consent agreement, which would bypass the regular roll call procedure and have all members on the floor consent to the passage of the bill. However, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said he would object to such a motion, arguing that the measure is "too important" not to debate and hold a roll call vote. Senate appropriators also are encouraging Frist to call the Senate back Tuesday for a full roll call vote (Cohn/Fulton, CongressDaily, 12/4). Without an agreement, most of the government will have to operate under a temporary resolution, which funds most government offices at FY 2003 funding levels, according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 12/5).
In the first interview in the "Kaiser Conversations in Health" series, Irish rock star and AIDS advocate Bono spoke about the status of the AIDS funding in the omnibus spending bill with Kaiser Family Foundation Visiting Fellow Jackie Judd at the foundation's Barbara Jordan Conference Center, fielding questions from a live audience and via e-mail from around the world. An archived video version of the interview is available online from kaisernetwork.org.