By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2008
The House of Representatives yesterday passed a five-year reauthorization of the Bush administration's global AIDS program, adding $20 billion to the $30 billion the president requested.
The program, originally known by the acronym PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), provides money to treat people infected with HIV and to help support their families, as well as for a long list of activities aimed at preventing infection.
Although it contained controversial features, including a heavy emphasis on abstinence-oriented prevention strategies, the global AIDS program has been popular with lawmakers in both parties and has been praised around the world.
The reauthorization passed 308 to 116. A motion to send the bill back to committee, which was offered by lawmakers unhappy with the $50 billion price tag, failed on a 248 to 175 vote.
The Senate version of the bill is out of committee and is awaiting floor action.
"It's a very big bill and an expensive one, but it does a lot of important things," said Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I was pretty happy we maintained the essence of the bipartisan coalition on final passage."
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), the ranking Republican on the committee, said on the House floor that the bill "strengthens our national security" because AIDS is "destabilizing governments and societies" in entire regions around the world.
The original program, unveiled by the president in his 2003 State of the Union address, is spending $15 billion over five years. The reauthorized program would be bigger and broader in scope.
About $9 billion would go to fight tuberculosis and malaria, which are huge burdens in many countries where the AIDS epidemic is severe. Money would be used to buy food for AIDS patients and their families, provide clean water to communities, train health-care workers and provide "micro-credit" loans to women widowed by the disease or ostracized because they are infected.
Unlike the original PEPFAR, the renewed global AIDS bill would not stipulate the percentage of prevention spending that must be used to promote abstinence, but abstinence and sexual faithfulness would remain important strategies.