Newsweek Web Exclusive Examines Bush’s Global AIDS Initiative
Although President Bush's announcement of a five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative in his 2003 State of the Union address "surprised and delighted" many AIDS advocates, the president made no mention of AIDS in his State of the Union address this year, which "came as little surprise" to critics of the administration, Newsweek reports in a Web exclusive. The emergency AIDS relief plan, which was meant to be a "bold display of American generosity," could turn into a "public relations disaster for Bush," according to Newsweek. The U.S. Treasury has not disbursed any of the money Bush pledged last year, and the administration's office of the Global AIDS Coordinator continues to operate with few staff of its own. Congress holds "[p]art of the blame for the hold-up," as an omnibus spending bill (HR 2673) containing the first installment of funding for the initiative was stalled until the Senate passed it late last week, according to Newsweek (McLure, Newsweek, 1/27). The bill, which combines seven of the 13 fiscal year 2004 spending bills, includes $2.4 billion for international AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria initiatives. 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 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" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/23).
AIDS advocates have criticized the plan for "being too unilateral" and fear that funneling money through U.S. aid agencies instead of more multilateral organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria may "imperil" the fund, Newsweek reports. Advocates say that the administration wants to "g[o] it alone" so it would not have to share credit with other countries for saving lives and so it could fund only programs that fit its socially conservative agenda, according to Newsweek. Paul Zeitz of the Global AIDS Alliance said that although African nations could absorb more money, USAID and other U.S. government agencies do not have the capacity to disburse large amounts of funding. However, the Global Fund, which has been in operation for 18 months, is able to distribute large sums of money, according to Newsweek. By disbursing money through U.S. aid agencies, the administration could build a "parallel bureaucracy" that would compete with the Global Fund, which -- with limited support from the United States -- may have trouble attracting large contributions from European nations and Japan, Newsweek reports. The Bush administration proposed giving less than 7% of its overall AIDS funding to the Global Fund, but Congress -- including Republicans -- voted to almost triple the administration's request and provide $550 million to the fund this year.
Although Bush's plan is "hampered by unilateralism and ideology," some critics say that the administration "must be lauded for proposing such a bold initiative," which is "vastly more ambitious" than any plan put forth by the Clinton administration, according to Newsweek. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Bush's Democratic opponents are "unlikely to gain much traction" on AIDS policy, which is not a top priority for most voters, Newsweek reports. In addition, Democrats in Congress share some of the blame for stalling funding for the global AIDS initiative. However, "the president could do more to halt the erosion of good-will generated by last year's promise," Newsweek reports (Newsweek, 1/27).