TICKTOCK, two months and counting since President Bush announced a $10 billion commitment to AIDS prevention. Yes, it takes time to figure out how to spend so much money. But delay in this case is caused by myopic domestic obsessions that have little to do with the facts on the ground in Africa. This week debate in the House was dominated by concerns over condom distribution. Republicans on the International Relations Committee wanted it to be mentioned as a last resort, while Democrats wanted to give it equal status with emphasis on abstinence and fidelity in marriage. The Democrats won, thanks to the persistence and patience of Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), who has the pro-life credentials to push such a compromise. Countries in fact should not be restricted in their promotion of condoms in cases where that strategy may be most effective. But the larger picture is this: While members of Congress continue to seek and score minor political victories, people in Africa continue to die of AIDS. It is now a treatable disease, but in poor countries most people do not receive treatment. This is a crime.
The Senate is now mulling, mulling. Three meetings were scheduled and then canceled. Talks broke down six weeks ago over how much money would go to U.S. organizations and how much to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international umbrella group that President Bush helped found but that he now seems to have cooled on. Another fight is over how much money should go to improving cleanliness in hospitals, as opposed to promoting safer sex. With all respect, U.S. senators shouldn't be fine-tuning the strategies in any case. Appropriate the money and let people in Africa go to work.