- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008


A House committee yesterday voted to more than triple spending for a global AIDS program that has proven to be one of the Bush administration’s most successful and popular foreign-policy initiatives.

The Foreign Affairs Committee’s voice vote on the plan to approve spending of an average $10 billion annually over the next five years took place hours after lawmakers and the White House reached a compromise on some of the policy issues, including spending on abstinence programs, that had held up action on the legislation.

The bill extends the president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which authorized the spending of $15 billion total for five years on prevention and care programs in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions hit by the epidemic. That act, passed in 2003, expires in September.

Every day, an estimated 6,000 people are infected by HIV, said committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman, California Democrat.

“We have a moral imperative to act decisively,” he said.

While the program has wide bipartisan support, the White House and many Republicans objected to the original Democratic-crafted draft because it removed a provision requiring that a certain amount be spent on abstinence programs and bolstered links between AIDS treatment and family planning. Some Republicans said that would allow family-planning groups to spend money on abortions.

The compromise worked out in late-night negotiations Tuesday does eliminate the clause requiring that one-third of all HIV-prevention funds be spent on abstinence. Instead, it directs the administration to promote a “balanced” prevention program in target countries. The administration must issue a report if programs focusing on abstinence and fidelity do not receive half of the funds devoted to the prevention of sexual transmission of HIV, a smaller pot of funding.

The agreement also allows the use of AIDS funds for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling services in those family-planning programs supported by the U.S. government.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the top Republican on the committee, said the compromise maintained core values important to both sides. “Many of us in this room concluded that a collapse of the political consensus on this issue would do irreparable damage to what is arguably the most successful U.S. foreign-assistance program of the last half-century.”

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