Senate Democrats Block Omnibus Spending Bill, Including Funding for Global AIDS Initiative
Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked passage of an omnibus spending bill, which includes $2.4 billion for international AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria initiatives, the Washington Times reports (Fagan, Washington Times, 1/21). The 48-45 Senate vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to end debate on the bill and force a final vote, according to the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer (Fram, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/21). The House last month approved the spending bill, which combines seven of the 13 annual fiscal year 2004 spending bills. House-Senate conferees in November 2003 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 had 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/20). The government is currently operating under last year's spending levels through a continuing resolution that is set to expire on Jan. 31, according to the Los Angeles Times (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 1/21). If the bill continues to be blocked, the "only option" would be to adopt a continuing resolution extending the FY 2003 funding levels through the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, according to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Washington Times reports (Washington Times, 1/21).
Delaying the bill's passage is "mostly an empty threat," according to the New York Times. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) on Tuesday said that he expects Congress to pass the measure by the end of this month (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 1/21). Senate Democrats say they are blocking the bill so that they can "fix" provisions on overtime pay rules, country-of-origin food labeling and other issues, according to the Washington Post (Dewar, Washington Post, 1/21). "Our desire isn't to kill this bill," Daschle said, adding, "Our desire is to give them a chance to fix it" (New York Times, 1/21). President Bush on Tuesday called on Congress to pass the spending bill, saying, "Today, a minority in the Senate denied a vote on a spending bill that is four months overdue, and that fulfills important commitments," including "commitments ... to Africans suffering from AIDS" (Washington Times, 1/21). Frist urged Congress to quickly pass the bill, adding, "To defeat the omnibus will ... put at risk millions of lives for those who suffer from AIDS overseas" (Lerman, Newport News Daily Press, 1/20).