House panel approves $15 billion to combat AIDS
A five-year $15 billion international program to fight AIDS won approval from a House committee Wednesday as lawmakers said the disease threatens the fabric of civilization. The 37-8 vote by the International Relations Committee followed the rejection of an amendment by conservatives stating that abstinence should get priority over the use of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The no votes came from GOP conservatives who wanted to strengthen language in the bill to ensure that religious groups would not be deprived of funds.
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) offered an amendment stating that while condoms could be a part of AIDS strategies, promoting abstinence and monogamy should have priority. "As we undertake a moral imperative, it's important we do it morally," added Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who supported the amendment. But the committee rejected that amendment, instead voting 24-20 for an amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that does not give funding preference to any one prevention method.
The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.
The funding bill grew out of request by President Bush in his State of the Union address for $15 billion, including $10 billion in new money, to fight AIDS in Africa and elsewhere. The legislation would authorize $3 billion a year to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis and reserve up to $1 billion in the 2004 budget year for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The Administration had sought only $1 billion over five years for the fund.
Senate leaders are currently struggling to prepare their version of the AIDS funding bill and hope to introduce a measure later this month or next.