Senate Delays Vote on $820B Omnibus Bill, Including Funding for Global AIDS Initiative
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday filed a cloture motion on the $820 billion fiscal year 2004 omnibus spending bill, which includes $2.4 billion in international AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria funding, effectively delaying a vote on the bill until January, CongressDaily reports (Cohn, CongressDaily, 12/9). The House on Monday approved 242-176 the spending bill, which combines seven of the 13 annual FY 2004 spending bills. House-Senate conferees last month agreed to increase FY 2004 federal spending on international AIDS, TB and malaria initiatives to $2.4 billion, $400 million more than the Bush administration has requested. Although the measure (HR 1298) supporting the five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative authorizes $3 billion for the first year of the program, the Bush administration 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 also includes $1 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account, an assistance program for developing nations that encourages democracy and development through economic aid. Without a vote on the bill, most of the government will have to operate under a temporary resolution, which funds most government offices at FY 2003 funding levels (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/9). As a result of the cloture, new funding to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in addition to other programs, will be delayed for at least six weeks, the Washington Post reports.
Before filing the cloture motion, Frist called for unanimous consent on the bill, which would require all 100 senators' agreement but would allow the bill to pass without a recorded vote, according to the Post (Dewar, Washington Post, 12/10). However, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) objected to unanimous consent (CongressDaily, 12/9). Daschle offered to support the measure in a unanimous consent vote if Republican senators "dropped their demands" in the spending bill on media ownership, gun-buying record checks and overtime rules, among other issues, the New York Times reports (Firestone, New York Times, 12/10). However, Frist objected to any debate on the bill. Daschle also made a motion to break out from the omnibus bill the FY 2004 foreign operations spending bill and consider it separately, citing concerns about a lack of funding to fight HIV/AIDS internationally. Frist also objected to that motion and decided to delay the vote until the Senate reconvenes on Jan. 20, "despite direct lobbying" by President Bush for a vote before the break, according to CongressDaily. Frist scheduled a vote on the measure for 2:30 p.m. on Jan.20, saying that final passage of the measure would occur within 24 hours of the vote, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 12/9).
Frist, who has said that HIV/AIDS in developing countries constitutes the "greatest moral and humanitarian public health challenge of ... the last 100 years," said that "there is sufficient money that can be used" to subsidize HIV/AIDS programs at current spending levels, the AP/Kansas City Star reports. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said that he was concerned that the delay in the bill's passage would harm people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, according to the AP/Star. He said, "If they have to wait another month or two, will it make a difference? Unfortunately, the stark answer is yes." Daschle said that the delay means that HIV/AIDS patients in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions "will not get the kind of attention, the resources, the commitment and response they so desperately need" (Fram, AP/Kansas City Star, 12/9). He added that the bill has become a "Frankenstein's monster" of "legislative abuses and special-interest giveaways," adding that more time is necessary to examine the measure's provisions, according to the Post (Washington Post, 12/10).
Bush's FY 2005 Proposal
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Bush administration has told cabinet departments that the administration's FY 2005 spending proposal will include "relatively small" funding increases for HIV/AIDS programs and the Millennium Challenge Account. The proposal will include $2.5 billion in new funds for the Millennium Challenge Account and $1.1 billion in additional funds for global HIV/AIDS programs, according to individuals familiar with Bush's proposal, the Journal reports. According to the Journal, those amounts -- along with the funds yet to be approved in the FY 2004 spending bill -- account for 18% of the $30 billion in spending increases the White House promised would take place by 2008. If Congress approves the funding levels in Bush's proposal, "the vast majority" of promised spending increases would be stalled until after the 2004 presidential election, the Journal reports. "They aren't quite willing to put the money out there to match the rhetoric of the president's speech," Steve Radelet, who served as the Africa head in both Clinton and former President Bush's Treasury departments and who is now a fellow at the Center for Global Development, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., said (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 12/10).