Senate majority leader Bill Frist has withdrawn support from an AIDS bill that he wrote last year and is now backing a White House version of the measure that critics say is much weaker than his earlier legislation, Newsday reports. Bush's version of Frist's bill, which is based on his pledge to spend $15 billion over the next five years to fight AIDS in developing nations, includes no specific funding recommendations for HIV/AIDS programs; replaces the word shall with should throughout the bill, making implementation of its provisions seemingly discretionary instead of mandatory; and removes all congressional oversight measures for international AIDS spending.
Bob Stevenson, Frist's spokesman, said the senator is simply working with the Administration to produce a bill that reflects Bush's proposed AIDS plan. But Senate Democrats and Republicans alike are concerned about the changes to the proposed legislation, particularly a lack of specific funding recommendations for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has announced that he will craft a bipartisan alternative that will include funding recommendations.
The original bill, authored by Frist and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), passed the Senate in July but was never considered by the House. That bill set aside $2.2 billion for the global fund in fiscal 2003 and 2004. The version backed by Frist and the White House now says only that funding for the global fund in 2003 and 2004 should be in "such sums as may be necessary."