- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Senate this week began debate on bipartisan legislation authorizing a massive increase in international AIDS funding despite the valid concerns expressed by conservative lawmakers and pro-life groups.

The Bush administration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are all supporting legislation to fund the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) for five years. The PEPFAR bill before the Senate would more than triple funding for the program from the current $15 billion to $50 billion. Mr. Reid, in particular, seeks to portray Republican senators seeking to amend the bill, led by Jim DeMint (South Carolina); Jon Kyl (Arizona); and Jeff Sessions (Alabama), as engaged in needless delay of the legislation. “While we’re fiddling around here on this in Washington, people are dying,” Mr. Reid said. “This is big-time stuff; this is very important to one whole continent [Africa].”

But it is intellectually dishonest for Mr. Reid to trivialize the concerns raised by Republican critics of the PEPFAR bill that is currently before the Senate. Far from being ideologically opposed to PEPFAR, many conservative Senate Republicans support doubling the program to $30 billion - the amount requested last year by President Bush. But the House of Representatives passed a $50 billion reauthorization of the program in April, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved its $50 billion version in March, and the Bush administration acquiesced. The $50 billion, Mr. Kyl points out, could pay for the pensions of American military veterans for more than a year and could fund a new GI bill for U.S. troops - twice.

Conservative critics raise other legitimate concerns about the Senate bill - even as the White House and Democratic leadership attempt to ram their version of PEPFAR through the Senate. For example, the bill would double funding for the U.N.-affiliated Global Fund despite its role in supporting abortion and needle-exchange programs. It would repeal current law barring HIV-positive aliens from entering the United States, and it leaves the door open for the use of U.S. tax dollars to finance programs in nations like Russia, China and India - three of the fastest-growing countries in the world, and nations that are perfectly able to pay for their own HIV/AIDS programs. If Russia wants to set up such programs, perhaps it should consider using some of its oil-revenue windfall. As for China, it should slash its exploding military expenditures before demanding HIV money from hard-pressed American taxpayers.

For pro-life groups, one of the most troubling aspects of the bill is the $2 billion in annual funding for the Global Fund, where it would go to pay for coercive sterilizations and abortion. But it would be irresponsible to pass the PEPFAR bill before the Senate in anything resembling its current form.

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