updated 9/27/2006 9:58:32 AM ET 2006-09-27T13:58:32

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

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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 Nov. 7 midterm elections.

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

Permanent reduction concern
Republican leaders hoped to get the legislation through the full House and Senate this week, but Democratic Sens. 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 Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., took the floor to call for immediate passage and to urge senators to drop their opposition.

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., 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.

Alternatives pursued
"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 Senate health committee. 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 the HIV virus 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 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.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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