The U.S. Senate agreed on Thursday to boost spending for the fight against global AIDS by $289 million, bringing the U.S. commitment to combating the epidemic and related diseases to $2.4 billion next year. The Senate voted 89-1 to add the extra funds to an $18.4 billion bill funding U.S. foreign aid programs in 2004, which it later cleared by a voice vote. The U.S. House of Representatives rejected a similar effort when it passed its version of the spending measure in July, and the issue will now have to be settled by congressional negotiators before a final bill can be sent to President Bush.
The Senate's AIDS funding still falls short of the $3 billion that was promised for 2004 by legislation Bush signed into law in May to launch a five-year, $15 billion initiative to fight AIDS and other diseases. The White House and congressional Republican leaders, facing tight spending constraints as federal deficits hit record levels, argue that $2 billion is enough for the effort's start-up year and that more money will be available later. But supporters of the extra funding say the need for action against the growing threat presented by the spread of AIDS is too great to allow available resources to be delayed. "AIDS is wiping out entire communities, and, yes, we can truly say that AIDS has the potential to wipe out entire countries," said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). "Passing this amendment will save thousands and thousands of lives."
Facing enough votes to simply add the extra money to the spending bill in defiance of the Senate's budget limits, Republican leaders were forced to agree to instead dip into funds previously set aside for defense. The Senate also agreed to spend at least $75 million for programs in Africa aimed at stopping the transmission of HIV through dirty hypodermic needles and tainted blood transfusions. The bill would also overturn the Bush administration policy of blocking U.S. assistance to international family planning agencies if they advocate abortions. Last week the White House threatened a veto if the provision was retained.