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U.S. agrees to global AIDS funds

/ Source: The Associated Press

House-Senate bargainers agreed Monday to provide $2.4 billion this year to combat AIDS and other deadly diseases in Africa and other poor regions. The amount is $400 million more than President Bush proposed last February.

The administration had defended Bush’s request, attacked as inadequate by advocates of an aggressive global fight against AIDS, as all that could be spent effectively now.

“We see the Congress really defying the president on this by going higher, and that is a very positive trend,” said David Bryden, spokesman for the Global AIDS Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Congressional negotiators also agreed to provide $650 million for Bush’s so-called Millennium Challenge Account, the president’s plan to give foreign aid to countries trying to make democratic, economic and human rights reforms at home.

That is half what Bush requested for one of his top foreign policy priorities. Lawmakers and aides, however, said they would try providing extra money later — perhaps in a massive end-of-session spending measure — to bring the challenge account’s total to at least $900 million and perhaps $1 billion.

Even so, the reduction underlines the budget pressures lawmakers face from mounting federal deficits, the weak economy and the cost of tax cuts as they try to complete overdue spending bills for the federal fiscal year that started Oct. 1.

Last spring, Congress enacted a five-year, $15 billion plan for fighting AIDS and other diseases worldwide that Bush had proposed in his State of the Union address in January. That legislation set up the program, but left the provision of money to future bills.

The plan called for spending $3 billion a year for preventing and treating AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 14 African and Caribbean countries, with the bulk of the funds to be aimed at AIDS. The effort was supposed to prevent 7 million new infections, provide care for 10 million HIV-infected people and AIDS orphans, and provide therapy for 2 million others. It represents a near-tripling of previous U.S. efforts against AIDS.

Lawmakers included $1.65 billion for the global AIDS effort in a $17.2 billion foreign aid bill that House-Senate negotiators tentatively completed late Monday. They hoped to push it through Congress this week.

An additional $754 million for battling AIDS abroad is to be included in a separate $138 billion measure for this year’s health, education and labor programs.

That health-education legislation is likely to be combined with several other unfinished spending measures into an enormous bill financing much of the government. Top lawmakers hope that measure will be passed by Congress just before it adjourns for the year, perhaps by the end of this week.

Bush proposed the Millennium Challenge Account in March 2002 as part of a long-term increase in the foreign assistance program. He called for $1.3 billion for the account for fiscal 2004, which started Oct. 1, rising to $5 billion for 2006.

Funds would go to countries meeting standards for good governance, health care, education and investment climates.

The bill also would block U.S. military and other assistance to Nigeria — but not humanitarian aid — unless it cooperates in the surrender of Charles Taylor, the deposed Liberian president who is wanted for trial on crimes against humanity charges. The administration opposes the sanctions, even though they could be suspended under certain conditions.

The overall bill also has:

$731 million for combatting drugs in the Andean region of South America, matching Bush’s request and about $1.5 million over last year’s level.

Nearly $2.7 billion in military and economic aid for Israel, $1.9 billion for Egypt and $464 million for Jordan.

$587 million for former Soviet republics, $11 million more than Bush sought but $168 million below last year’s total.

$325 million for the Peace Corps, $34 million below Bush’s request but $30 million over the 2003 level.

Nothing for Iraq and Afghanistan, which received funds in legislation enacted recently to finance U.S. military and rebuilding operations there.