- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

The two sides of Capitol Hill appear to be engaging in a bidding war to see who can put more money toward the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases in its version of the economic stimulus bill.

The House included $335 million in its package. But the Senate, not to be outdone, provided $400 million in STD spending in its bill.

When the Drudge Report noted the House funds Wednesday morning, it set off a round of criticism from Republicans who said the money made no sense in a $819 billion bill designed to get the economy back on track.

Corrected: “Senate big spenders will never be overbid in wasting tax dollars. But how in the world does STD research create jobs? Wait. … Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know,” said Wesley Denton, an aide to Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.

But the Senate bill, on page 138 of the 431-page measure, directs $400 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “for the screening and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.”

The Senate is expected to begin floor debate on its stimulus bill next week.

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, listed the allocation as one of the noteworthy achievements of the Senate spending bill, along with $75 million for smoking cessation and $870 million to prepare for a pandemic influenza outbreak.

“This initiative includes grants to communities for health promotion, immunization programs, health screenings and counseling, smoking-cessation programs, scholarships and loan repayment for health professionals, research, and evidence-based disease-prevention strategies,” Mr. Harkin said in touting his work.

On the House side, the National Republican Congressional Committee fired off e-mails Wednesday challenging freshman Democrats to take a stand on whether they thought $335 million for STD prevention was a good way to spend economic-recovery money.

The STD money was included in the bill that passed the House by a 244-188 vote Wednesday evening, but House Democrats were forced to remove a separate $200 million that had been designated to boost contraceptive coverage under Medicaid, the government-run health care plan for the poor.

That provision was removed after President Obama made a personal appeal to take it out of the bill.

Republicans and some Democrats have complained that the recovery bill is loaded with items that would provide little short-term help in boosting the economy. Republicans say the bill instead has become a vehicle for congressional Democrats to get approval for projects they’ve been unable to secure in recent years with congressional Republicans and President Bush able to foil their efforts.

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