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Money fight
stalls AIDS bill in Senate

Money fight
stalls AIDS bill in Senate

A bill that would shift millions of dollars for AIDS care to other areas of the United States is being held up in the Senate by Democrats from California, New York, and New Jersey, whose states would lose out.

The objections threaten to stall passage of the $2.1 billion Ryan White CARE Act before Congress wraps up work this week ahead of the November 7 midterm election.

The law, originally passed in 1990, sends money to state and local programs for the neediest patients. A rewritten bill that has passed House and Senate committees would funnel more money to Southern and chiefly rural states where AIDS is spreading, but it would allocate less money to some larger states and urban areas that have been at the front line of the epidemic.

Republican leaders hoped to get the legislation through the full House and Senate this week, but Democratic senators Barbara Boxer of California, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer of New York, and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey are all objecting.

The dispute spilled into Senate debate Tuesday evening when Republican senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming took the floor to call for immediate passage and to urge senators to drop their opposition.

Democratic senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota immediately objected, saying he was doing so on behalf of senators who oppose ''permanent reduction of funding that would occur in their respective states.''

Under Senate rules, an objection by a single senator is enough to block passage.

''I'm sorry to hear we have an objection. We need to find a way to get through this objection,'' said Enzi, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He said the new bill sends money to states that really need it.

''If they truly have the HIV numbers, they will get the money. If they don't have the HIV numbers, yes, they will lose the money,'' he said.

Enzi's aides said they would look for other ways to pass the bill this week, perhaps by attaching it to another must-pass piece of legislation.

One significant change in the bill is in how patients are counted. Current law only counts patients with full-blown AIDS to determine spending. The revision also would count patients with HIV who have yet to develop AIDS.

That change would favor areas of the country where the disease is a newer phenomenon, which tend to be Southern states and rural areas.

Opponents in the House and Senate offered alternate legislation Tuesday that would extend the existing law for a year to allow more negotiations to take place. But the holdouts were getting pressure from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, top Democrat on the health committee, who supports the rewritten bill. ''There are few more urgent responsibilities for Congress this week than to pass this bipartisan legislation,'' he said in a statement late Tuesday.

The gay political group Log Cabin Republicans is also urging passage of the bill. "It's time for these senators [to] put the national interest above local special interests," Log Cabin executive vice president Patrick Sammon said in a statement. (Erica Werner, AP, with additional reporting by The Advocate)

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