Votes on bills that would allocate billions of dollars to fight global HIV/AIDS efforts continue to be delayed in Congress due to disagreements about how to spend the money and such basic questions as whether it's more important to advise people to abstain from sex or to give them condoms. The House International Relations Committee, set to vote Wednesday on a five-year $15 billion AIDS package that should win support from both parties, is at odds with the White House on where the money should go. The Senate was still searching for a consensus approach.
In his State of the Union address to Congress in January, Bush asked for $15 billion over five years, including $10 billion in new funds, to fight AIDS, particularly the epidemic in Africa. White House differences with Congress, however, have resulted in postponed votes in both the House International Relations Committee and its Senate counterpart in recent weeks. The House, led by committee chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), is seeking $3 billion a year and would funnel up to $1 billion of that to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The White House questions the efficiency of the fund and wants to give it only $200 million a year. Some conservative lawmakers also oppose supporting the fund because it issues grants to groups that support or advise women about abortion and because international AIDS efforts do not place more emphasis on abstinence as the preferred method of HIV prevention.
In the Senate, Foreign Relations Committee chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) also has tried to find a consensus that would satisfy the White House, the conservatives, and Democrats. "It's going to take a little longer," Lugar's spokesman, Andy Fisher, said.
AIDS activists worry that the increasing delays are signs that congressional approval will be a long time in coming. "The worst possible outcome is to see it descend into partisan rancor," said Mark Isaac, vice president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. "It's a matter of such urgency that it is crucial the parties come together."