Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Thursday that he plans to bring directly to the Senate floor next week a bill already passed by the House that would provide $15 billion over five years for international AIDS programs, The Wall Street Journal reports. Frist hopes to have the bill passed before the Memorial Day congressional recess and before an upcoming G8 summit meeting. The bill includes provisions that would require one third of the $3 billion granted annually to be directed to programs that teach abstinence as the preferred method of HIV prevention and that exempt religious organizations operating overseas from having to distribute condoms. The House bill passed by a 375-41 vote.
On Thursday, 13 right-wing groups sent Frist a letter urging him to bring the bill to a full Senate vote "without amendment" to avoid having the House requirement for abstinence funding removed from the legislation. "While the bill as passed by the House is far from perfect in our view, in the spirit of political compromise and in light of the urgency of the AIDS crisis in Africa, we are willing to support the bill being sent to the president since the House succeeded in adding a few key amendments we considered critical," the letter said. Among the groups to sign the letter were the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition of America, and the Traditional Values Coalition.
Some Senate Democrats oppose the current bill because of the abstinence provision and because they would like more U.S. money to go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The House-approved bill caps annual grants to the global fund at $1 billion per year. A separate international AIDS bill was filed Wednesday by senators Joseph Biden (D-Del.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that would authorize $2.2 billion a year for the global fund. "I want more for the Global Fund and less of the restrictions," Biden said. That bill was introduced in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It's not certain whether the committee will address the bill before the Memorial Day break.