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US Congress Welcomes Bush Plan to Fight AIDS in Africa - 2003-01-30

President Bush's proposal to Congress to devote $15 billion to the fight against AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean has been welcomed by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But some are asking where the money will be coming from.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush urged Congress to approve $15 billion in spending for AIDS over the next 10 years. At least $10 billion of this would be new spending.

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee called the president's proposal "a remarkable and unprecedented commitment" to combating AIDS.

The president's proposal also got a good reception from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The group represents African-American lawmakers in Congress. It had been urging the president for some time to take a bold step in dealing with the global AIDS problem.

"The HIV/AIDS epidemic is killing millions of people in Africa, because they are not receiving proper care. Eight-thousand people are dying from AIDS each day in Africa. By 2010, it is predicted that 40 million children will be orphaned as a result of the disease," said Elijah Cummings, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

However, other lawmakers are concerned that domestic priorities may end up preventing the president's proposal from being realized.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee says she is waiting for details from the White House, and warns that money for AIDS should not be taken from other areas such as children's health.

"We cannot rob Peter to pay Paul," she said. "This pandemic needs billions and billions of dollars immediately. He indicated that $10 billion would be new money. We want to see where that new money is coming from. How can there be new money when these tax cuts, $640 billion plus, are on the table and the other initiatives for the wealthiest in our country?"

For his part, President Bush expanded on his comments about AIDS Wednesday in a speech in Michigan. "We have a chance to use our wealth and our abilities to help cure that epidemic that plagues a group of people," he said. "I call upon the generosity of the American people, at this time of tragedy, where thousands are dying, where thousands of children are being orphaned, to join in a great cause, a great humanitarian cause, a cause to solve unimaginable problems, to help the people who are needlessly dying."

The invigorated effort to fight AIDS and help orphaned children would focus on some of the hardest-hit countries of Africa, including Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, and in the Caribbean - Haiti and Guyana.