The House of Representatives on Thursday passed, by a 375-41 vote, a $15 billion five-year bill for fighting AIDS overseas. Supporters of the bill, including President Bush, say the money could bring relief to millions of people with AIDS and prevent the deadly disease from infecting millions more. "It sends a message to the world that the United States will not sit idly by and allow AIDS to wreak havoc on the human family," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who voted for the bill. The bill recommends that 20% of the international AIDS grants go to prevention efforts, 15% for palliative care, 10% for programs serving AIDS orphans, and 55% for treatment programs.
Included in the bill was an amendment by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) that one third of the money be used for programs that teach abstinence as the preferred method of preventing HIV infections. The amendment passed on a 220-197 vote. "It's important that we not just send them money, but we send them values that work," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a supporter of Pitts's proposal. The bill also included an amendment by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) that strengthens protections for religious groups that may not wish to be involved in condom-distribution programs.
Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has pledged to act quickly on a Senate bill with the goal of getting the legislation to the president by the end of May. But some Senate Democrats are considering fighting the measure because they are opposed to the abstinence amendment added to the House version of the bill. Many AIDS advocates also have expressed concern that the House version of the legislation places too much emphasis on abstinence at the expense of safer-sex programs that stress condom use.
Within minutes of the House vote, Bush issued a statement praising the quick passage of the legislation. The fight against AIDS "is a moral imperative our great nation must confront decisively and boldly," Bush said. "Time is of the essence."