President Bush asked Congress on Tuesday to quickly pass a $15 billion initiative to combat AIDS in the Caribbean and Africa despite ongoing disagreements about language concerning sexual abstinence. The president said swift action is needed against a disease that is "leaving graves and orphans across a continent." Bush spoke as lawmakers dug into the divisive details of a bill whose broad goals enjoy widespread support. Congress is likely to vote next month on the AIDS bill but has run into disputes over language detailing sexual abstinence.
The president said little about those disagreements Tuesday, instead pointing to the sweeping goals of the bill. His initiative would prevent 7 million new HIV infections and treat at least 2 million people in the next decade, Bush said. He also said he hopes to sign the legislation by Memorial Day. "Time is not on our side," Bush told scores of lawmakers, AIDS activists, and African dignitaries. "So I ask Congress to move forward with the speed this crisis requires."
Bush wants "prevention education rooted in the proven abstinence-based approach," the White House said. But the House International Relations Committee rejected an amendment stating that promoting sexual abstinence and monogamy should have priority. Republicans are likely to make another run at such a provision and to ensure that religious organizations can participate in the plan without being forced to distribute condoms. The bill is set to go to the full House for a vote as early as Thursday, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to take it up next week. Final votes are likely to come next month, Administration officials say.