- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The White House will begin a major push to pass a bill to fight the global spread of AIDS with a ceremony in the Rose Garden today while conservatives will attempt to bolster the legislation's abstinence provisions Thursday on the House floor.
President Bush, who proposed the initiative in January's State of the Union Address, has indicated that he would sign the bill that emerged earlier this month from the House International Relations Committee.
The House bill would spend $15 billion over the next five years to fight the disease in Africa and the Caribbean. The program is modeled after the "ABC" approach abstinence, being faithful and condom distribution that reduced HIV infection rates in Uganda from 21 percent to 6 percent since 1991.
Republicans see the bipartisan endorsement of the ABC approach as a major political victory.
"We think this is a conservative bill," said a Republican staffer on the House International Relations Committee. "The acknowledgement by the left of the usefulness of abstinence in fighting this dreadful disease is a concession of major proportions."
More conservative House members, however, think the abstinence provision lacks teeth. To remedy that, Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, is expected to introduce an amendment that would set aside a third of the funding specifically for abstinence and monogamy programs.
"The status quo is the marketing of condoms, and if there isn't a deliberate means for abstinence, the natural flow of the program will go to condom distribution," said an aide for Mr. Pitts.
Supporters of that amendment plan to lean heavily on the testimony Harvard researcher Edward C. Green gave to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in March. Once a skeptic of abstinence programs, he changed his mind after seeing the results it achieved in Africa.
"Many of us in the AIDS and public health communities didn't believe that abstinence or delay, and faithfulness, were realistic goals. It now seems we were wrong," Dr. Green testified.
Despite the White House's blessing, some conservative activists are so displeased with the final committee language that they are now urging the bill's defeat.
"It appears again the White House is so eager for the photo-op of a Rose Garden bill-signing ceremony that it will accept deeply flawed legislation even though it does not embody the principles the president himself laid out," said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council.
Other amendments expected to be offered by Republicans Thursday include one that would cap the amount of taxpayer money that goes to the Global Fund To Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Supporters of that amendment oppose pouring $1 billion into an internationally operated fund they feel lacks sufficient oversight and accountability.
Among those in attendance in the Rose Garden today will be Kate Carr, president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. She said her organization "would like to see the [bill] stay as it exists," rather than include some of the conservative amendments.
"We're pretty happy with this bill. And we are ecstatic with the attention that the president has given this bill," Mrs. Carr said. "With all the other priorities, he has chosen to focus attention on this. It's time for Congress to do its job and get this bill passed."
Andy Fisher, spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Chairman Richard G. Lugar will be at the Rose Garden ceremony today and will likely mark up a bill by mid-May.
"The final version will depend in part on what the House passes on Thursday," Mr. Fisher said.

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