Senate Passes $15 Billion AIDS Bill
The bill passed by voice vote after the Senate, at White House urging, defeated all but one attempt to amend the measure that had cleared earlier in the House. House GOP leaders agreed to the one amendment, on debt relief for poor AIDS-hit countries, and are expected to send the bill to the president as early as next Tuesday.
President Bush, in a statement, said, “Congress has given the hope of life to millions of people in countries most afflicted by AIDS. This historic legislation will enable us to provide critical treatment and care for millions who suffer, and greatly expand successful prevention programs to help those at risk.”
Mr. Bush wants to sign the bill before he attends a summit of industrial nations June 1. With the legislation in hand, he hopes to spur other nations to step up their commitments.
The bill will make anti-viral treatment available to about 2 million HIV-infected people in Africa and the Caribbean who cannot afford the costly cocktail of drugs that can prolong and improve their lives.
It will also provide hospice care for the dying, assist some of the 13 million children who have lost one or both parents, and intensify prevention programs.
One of the main legislative battles while the bill was making its way through Congress was over how to prioritize abstinence and condom programs.
The model cited by both sides was Uganda, which has successfully reduced infection with its ABC program stressing “Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condoms when appropriate.”
But House conservatives were able to amend the bill to ensure that 33 percent of all prevention funding goes to abstinence programs, and that Catholic and other religious groups are not denied funding because they oppose condom distribution.
Democrats chafed at GOP resistance to their attempts to amend the legislation, but joined in stressing the need for unity and urgency. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle stressed that AIDS is more than a humanitarian crisis.
“AIDS is a national security issue. It is a public health issue. It is an economic issue. And it is a moral issue. We have the tools to fight this disease. It is our duty and our obligation to use them,” he said.
AIDS groups were optimistic that the U.S. action would spur others at the summit to increase their investments. Dr. Peter Piot, head of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, said the congressional action would “send a strong message that the global fight against AIDS should be a top priority at this meeting.”
The legislation will set a spending framework for $15 billion over five years but does not actually fund AIDS programs. That must be done in Congress’s annual appropriations bills.
The AIDS initiative focuses principally on Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as Guyana and Haiti in the Caribbean.