Senate Passes Omnibus Spending Bill, Including Funding for Global AIDS Initiative
The Senate on Thursday voted 65-28 to approve an omnibus spending bill (HR 2673), which includes $2.4 billion for international AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria initiatives, the Washington Post reports (Dewar, Washington Post, 1/23). The House last month approved the 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 Reproductive Health Report, 1/21). Senate Democrats had earlier blocked the bill, citing objections to provisions on overtime pay rules, country-of-origin food labeling and other issues but on Thursday "conceded" that they could not sustain the filibuster, according to the Post. In a procedural vote, most Republicans were joined by 16 Democrats in a 61-32 vote to end debate on the measure. Bush is expected to sign the measure soon, the Post reports (Washington Post, 1/23).
Bush on Thursday said that the spending bill "fulfills important commitments, like AIDS relief," adding, "I look forward to signing this bill into law" (Singer, Chicago Tribune, 1/23). Kate Carr, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, said the bill's passage was an "historic goa[l] outlined by President Bush and Congress" for fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, adding, "We now urge the president to sign this legislation as soon as possible so that we can move these resources into the field quickly and get about the business of saving lives" (EGPAF release, 1/22). The spending bill, which also includes funding for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, is "critical for the provision of life-saving HIV/AIDS treatments and supportive services to low-income Americans," Loretta Davis-Satterla, chair of the National Alliance of State And Territorial AIDS Directors, said, adding, "Unfortunately the spending bill cuts domestic HIV care and prevention programs. These cuts to domestic HIV/AIDS programs will only increase the challenges facing states in meeting the needs of the increasing number of Americans infected with and at risk for HIV/AIDS" (NASTAD release, 1/22). Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday called the measure a "Frankenstein of a bill," and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) urged Bush to veto the bill, saying that it contained $11 billion in "pork-barrel" spending, according to the Los Angeles Times (Simon, Los Angeles Times, 1/23). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said, "There are provisions in this bill that I would have preferred be different," but he added, "It is time to move on. The country demands that we complete action on this bill" (Godfrey, Dow Jones Newswires, 1/22).