- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

AIDS prevention and overseas assistance would get major increases under President Bush’s budget, which calls for a big boost in foreign aid programs even as U.S. farmers, veterans and train riders face cutbacks.

The State Department and U.S. foreign assistance and diplomacy programs proved to be unexpected winners in the fiscal 2006 federal budget released by Mr. Bush on Monday.

Private aid groups that had been critical of the administration’s policies found little to criticize in a budget that would increase foreign aid spending by nearly 16 percent, to $22.8 billion.

Although the administration wants to eliminate or sharply reduce about 150 programs across the federal government in a bid to cut the deficit, none of the programs comes under the $33.6 billion international affairs budget.

State Department officials said the spending boost at a time of general belt-tightening reflected Mr. Bush’s focus on winning the global war on terrorism through aid, diplomacy and the promotion of democracy abroad, the theme of his inaugural address last month.

“This is a budget and a department that is focusing on transformational democracy around the world,” a senior State Department official said.

Two of the biggest increases come in two of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy priorities: the Millennium Challenge Corp. and HIV/AIDS prevention.

The MCC is designed as a fundamental overhaul of U.S. foreign economic aid, directing funds to low-income countries that have embraced strong market-oriented reforms and institutions. Mr. Bush asked Congress for $3 billion for the MCC for the fiscal year beginning in October, double the current funding.

That number is less than the $5 billion Mr. Bush originally planned for the MCC, but Congress approved only $994 million for the current fiscal year, and administration officials said the fledgling program still needed time to grow.

“I think it’s going to be a very steep acceleration going forward,” the State Department official said.

Funding for HIV/AIDS programs would jump from $2.6 billion this year to $3.2 billion in fiscal 2006. The money would go to more than 100 countries, but would focus on 12 African nations, Guyana, Haiti and Vietnam.

The biggest single slice of the foreign assistance budget would be in foreign military financing and training, with a combined $4.6 billion.

But the Bush budget also includes major funding for a number of “soft diplomacy” programs. For example, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, designed to boost economic and political reform in the Arab and Muslim world, would receive $120 million.

The National Endowment for Democracy, which promotes democratic movements and civil liberties worldwide, would see a 33 percent budget increase, to $80 million.

The budget of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which overseas U.S. television and radio broadcasting overseas, would increase from $592 million this fiscal year to $652 million.

InterAction, an umbrella group of about 160 U.S. private aid and development groups, noted in a legislative alert that about $286 million would be cut in the budget from child survival and health programs.

But State Department officials said virtually all of that money had been transferred to other aid and humanitarian programs, including the global AIDS fund.

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