House Panel Approves Increase in Global AIDS Spending

By keleveld

Originally published on Advocate.com February 28 2008 12:00 AM ET

A committee in
the House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to more
than triple spending for a U.S. global AIDS program that has
proven to be one of the Bush administration's most
successful and popular foreign policy initiatives.

The Foreign
Affairs Committee's voice vote on the plan to approve
spending of an average $10 billion annually over the next
five years came hours after lawmakers and the White
House reached a compromise on some of the policy
issues, including spending on abstinence programs, that had
held up action on the legislation.

The bill extends
the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which
authorized spending of $15 billion total for five years for
prevention and care programs in sub-Saharan Africa and
other regions hit by the epidemic. That act, passed in
2003, expires in September.

The new bill adds
14 Caribbean countries to the 15 mostly African nations
that have been the focus of the program.

Every day another
6,000 people are infected by HIV, said committee
chairman Howard Berman, a Democrat. ''We have a moral
imperative to act decisively,'' he said.

While the program
has wide bipartisan support, the White House and many
Republicans objected to the original Democrat-written draft
because it removed a provision requiring that a
certain amount be spent on abstinence programs and
bolstered links between AIDS treatment and family
planning. Some Republicans said this would open the way for
family planning groups to spend money on abortions.

The compromise
worked out in late-night negotiations Tuesday does
eliminate the clause requiring that one third of all HIV
prevention funds be spent on abstinence, instead
directing the Administration to promote ''balanced
funding for prevention activities'' in target countries. The
Administration must issue a report if programs focusing on
abstinence and fidelity do not receive half of funds
devoted to the prevention of sexual transmission of
HIV, a smaller pot.

The agreement
also allows the use of AIDS funds for HIV/AIDS testing and
counseling services in those family planning programs
supported by the U.S. government. Earlier drafts
permitted use of funds for family planning programs
including contraceptive services and commodities such
as birth control pills. The final bill gives no authority
beyond current law to fund family planning programs
with AIDS money, although Democrats pointed out that
it also does not prohibit such activities.

Rep. Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, top Republican on the committee, said the
compromise maintained core values important to both sides.
''Many of us in this room concluded that a collapse of
the political consensus on this issue would do
irreparable damage to what is arguably the most successful
U.S. foreign assistance program of the last half century.''

President George
W. Bush was hailed during his recent trip to Africa for
a program that has resulted in 1.4 million people receiving
drugs to fight the virus and has cared for nearly 6.7
million, including 2.7 million orphans.

The bill was
named after two former chairmen of the committee,
Representatives Henry Hyde and Tom Lantos. Hyde, who died
last November, and Lantos, who died earlier this
month, sponsored the 2003 bill. Lantos was also the
sponsor of the new bill.

''This historic
agreement will save millions of lives,'' said Paul Zeitz,
executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance. He welcomed
the increase in funds for tuberculosis and malaria
while expressing concerns that the compromise retains
limitations on AIDS funding for family planning.

The White House
on Wednesday also repeated that the president's proposal
to double spending to $30 billion, rather than the $50
billion in the House bill, was more appropriate. ''We
believe ... that $30 billion is the right amount of
money that could be effectively used by these
governments to tackle the HIV/AIDS problem,'' White House
press secretary Dana Perino said. ''We don't think
it's smart to send additional American taxpayer
dollars that will sit there and not be used, or be used
ineffectively.'' (Jim Abrams, AP)