Bush in State of the Union Address Urges Congress To Reauthorize Ryan White CARE Act, Pledges To Fight AIDS Among Blacks
President Bush during the State of the Union address on Wednesday "surprised many in Congress" by outlining an agenda aimed at U.S. inner cities, including a pledge to fight the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the African-American community, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Coile, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/3). Bush also asked Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act "to encourage prevention and provide care and treatment" to people living with the disease. "And as we update this important law, we must focus our efforts on fellow citizens with the highest rates of new cases: African-American men and women," Bush said (Speech text, 2/2). Last month, Bush met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who chairs the CBC Global AIDS Taskforce, was expected to deliver a letter to the president acknowledging his work to raise the profile of the HIV/AIDS pandemic but adding that a greater commitment is needed (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/26). According to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), former CBC chair, he and other caucus members at the meeting "pressed" Bush to mention HIV/AIDS during his State of the Union address, the Baltimore Sun reports (Bowman, Baltimore Sun, 2/3).
Some of Bush's supporters said that his comments were "just the latest in a series" of policies aimed at helping poor and minority communities, while some critics said the statements were "part of a calculated political strategy ... to court minority voters," according to the Chronicle. "It's a bit surprising. He might be the first president to devote that kind of attention to these problems in a long time. These are all issues that disproportionately affect the African-American community," Robert Smith, San Francisco State University political science professor and an expert on African-American voting patterns, said. "I was very pleased that he mentioned [HIV/AIDS] tonight," Lee said, adding, "What is important is to look at the budget the president proposes next week and see if he makes good on his promise and funds the Minority AIDS Initiative. In the past, he has not funded the requests that we have presented to him" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/3). AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein in a statement said that his organization supports Bush's request for RWCA reauthorization and "applaud[s]" his pledge to fight HIV/AIDS among African Americans through prevention, outreach and treatment services. "And as Congress moves forward with this reauthorization process, we would urge Congress to also place a greater emphasis -- and direct increased Ryan White resources -- toward the delivery of outpatient medical care and services," Weinstein said (AHF release, 2/2). Patricia Bass, chair of the CAEAR Coalition, in a statement urged Bush to increase funding for CARE Act programs. She added that although the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States has increased by nearly 100,000 since Bush took office, "the key discretionary programs to provide basic health care and support services to them have seen no increases in support to care for these growing numbers" (CAEAR Coalition release, 2/3).
A video of Bush's speech, including an excerpt of his comments on HIV/AIDS, is available online. A video of the Democratic response and the complete transcript of the State of the Union also are available online.