By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The Senate approved legislation yesterday that would triple funding to fight AIDS and other diseases around the globe, rejecting efforts to pare down the bill's $50 billion price tag.
On an 80 to 16 vote, the Senate dramatically increased the U.S. contribution to a global fund to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. President Bush, who requested $30 billion over the next five years, has agreed to the larger amount for a program he started in 2003.
"We've made tremendous strides, but our work is not nearly finished. Two million people died last year of HIV-AIDS. Over two and a half million people died of malaria and TB," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). He praised Bush's "bold" support for AIDS funding, launched in the 2003 State of the Union address, calling it his greatest achievement as president.
Once a politically contentious issue, fighting AIDS has become popular at both ends of the ideological spectrum. During the debate, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, praised former senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a conservative icon who died July 4, for his decision in 2000 to support global AIDS funding.
Some Senate conservatives were divided over supporting the costly program, though they acknowledged its success.
"This is by far the only true foreign policy program that's working. The dollars are actually making a difference," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a staunch opponent of most government spending.
"HIV is a death sentence, no question about it. If you go untreated, you're going to die," Coburn added.
According to the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, the money has provided services in poor nations that have prevented 194,000 HIV infections among infants.
But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said the funding should have been reduced to $35 billion over five years. He noted that the initial program cost $15 billion.
"There should be a limit," Cornyn said. "It's one thing to say you'll support it at $15 billion; it's another thing to say you'll support it at $35 billion. To me, it's entirely another thing to support it at $50 billion."
Cornyn was one of 16 Republicans to oppose the bill. Amendments to reduce its cost were rejected by large bipartisan majorities.
The program originally focused on 15 poor nations, but the legislation would expand it to help provide prevention and treatment services in more than 100 countries.
The House has passed its own version of the bill, but Biden said there are only minor differences between the two and predicted a final version would soon be crafted and sent to the president for his signature.
One key difference in the bills is a House provision that would allow funding for family planning programs in poor nations.