President George W. Bush will propose $3.2 billion for next year to combat the spread of AIDS globally, one of the few increases in what is expected to be a tight foreign aid budget, Administration and congressional sources said on Friday. Administration officials said Bush was fulfilling his commitments on AIDS funding, but critics charged the funding levels were inadequate. In his 2003 State of the
Union address, Bush pledged $15 billion over five years to help combat the spread of HIV, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean. "It is an extraordinary commitment and we're making good on it in exactly the way we said we would," an Administration official said of the $3.2 billion figure. When the White House first announced the initiative, it said the funding would be ramped up over the five-year period. Congressional sources said the AIDS initiative escaped the fate of most other foreign aid programs in Bush's fiscal 2006 budget, which face a near-freeze in spending growth, if not outright cuts.
But AIDS activists say Bush's budget request falls short because Congress authorized up to $3.8 billion for 2006. They say Bush should commit closer to $6.7 billion next year, one-third of the estimated global need to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria." We see this as a continuation of Bush's failed leadership on global AIDS by under-funding his own initiative and providing only a fraction of what is needed to stop this epidemic," said Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance.
At $3.2 billion, the 2006 budget request would top the $2.8 billion approved by Congress for the current fiscal year. The program received $2.4 billion in fiscal 2004.
Bush will send his budget plan to Congress on February 7 for the 2006 fiscal year beginning October 1. It is expected to nearly freeze the growth of discretionary programs, excluding spending on defense and homeland security. A freeze in growth would amount to a cut when inflation is taken into account. Bush's global AIDS initiative focuses mainly on the hardest-hit countries, including Botswana, the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Some Democrats have called for the United States to pledge $30 billion by 2008--twice as much as pledged by Bush--for the fight against AIDS. (Reuters)