AIDS funding bogged down in partisan disputes

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com March 07 2003 12:00 AM ET

Clashes between Democrats and Republicans over how to disburse the $15 billion President Bush pledged for international AIDS efforts during the next five years--as well as arguments over whether the Administration should apply its "Mexico City" restriction to HIV/AIDS funding--have bogged down congressional attempts to craft the framework of Bush's initiative, The New York Times reports. Lawmakers from the two parties are at odds over whether the bulk of the funding should go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria or be disbursed by the State Department. Bush wants only $200 million annually to go to the fund, which he says "does not have a proven track record," but Democrats are pushing for much larger grants to the fund.

The lawmakers also are clashing over whether agencies receiving federal HIV/AIDS funds should be subject to the "Mexico City" policy, which bars any U.S. money from going to groups that fund or promote abortion, even with their own money. Under the policy, outlined by a Bush administration official at a forum last week, groups that provide any abortion services would have to administer HIV/AIDS programs separately from any family planning programs in order to qualify for the U.S. funds. But AIDS experts say that family planning and HIV prevention are inextricably intertwined at agencies and clinics operating in developing countries and that such funding restrictions would automatically bar them from qualifying for financial support. Some conservatives, such as Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), want the White House to write the "Mexico City" policy into any international AIDS funding laws, but Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) are discouraging colleagues from inserting abortion language into any international AIDS funding bills. "I want the AIDS bill to pass, and I think misdirected attention to other issues might overly burden the AIDS bill," Hyde said.

The disagreements have led to difficulties in both the House and Senate in drafting legislation to enact Bush's proposed funding. Hyde says House lawmakers are "nearing a deal" on a bill that would allocate $3 billion each year for the next five years on international AIDS efforts, but he notes that arguments are still being waged over whether the Administration or the global fund should oversee how much of the money is allocated. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he has no idea when a bill will be ready for the Senate but that efforts are continuing to draft bipartisan legislation. "It's a very difficult matter because there are a variety of people, all who want to do good in their own way," Lugar said. "I would like to have gotten an AIDS bill concluded this week, but that's not possible given the differences of opinion."