President Bush on Tuesday urged Congress to pass a $15 billion AIDS bill, calling on the lawmakers to "move forward with the speed and seriousness that this crisis requires," Reuters Health reports. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), would authorize $3 billion a year for the next five years for international HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, including a $1 billion annual contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The bill has met with some resistance from conservative lawmakers because it does not favor programs that teach abstinence over those that provide condoms to prevent HIV infections and because the funds can go to groups that provide abortion services as long as the family planning and abortion services are financed and run separately from the HIV/AIDS programs.
"Time is not on our side," Bush said Tuesday. "There are only two possible responses to suffering on this scale--we can turn our eyes away in resignation and despair, or we can take decisive, historic action to turn the tide against this disease and give the hope of life to millions. The United States of America chooses the path of action and the path of hope." Bush added that he hopes the legislation is passed before a G8 summit meeting scheduled for June 1 in France.
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) this week is expected to introduce an amendment to the bill that would specifically allocate one third of the measure's funding to groups that encourage abstinence and monogamy. While Bush is said to support Pitts's proposed amendment, he also has indicated he will sign the measure without it.
Several right-wing groups have expressed opposition to the bill and dismay that Bush plans to sign it if it includes provisions to fund groups that promote condom use. Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, called the current legislation "useless unless it contains three essential pro-family amendments." He added, "By signaling that President Bush will sign the bill as is, the White House has made it much more difficult to pass amendments which would focus U.S. efforts on abstinence and monogamy or which would limit funding to the...disastrous Global AIDS Fund and other anti-family organizations." Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations at Concerned Women for America, said the current bill would allow future administrations to "use AIDS prevention dollars for ineffective condom-based programs rather than lifesaving ones based on abstinence and faithfulness."
Most HIV/AIDS and health care groups, including the Global Health Council, the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Africa Action, and the Global Health Council, support the legislation.