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US Senate Moves Toward Passage of Global Aids Bill

The U.S. Senate is close to approving legislation to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis around the world. The House of Representatives passed the measure earlier this year, and President Bush is expected to sign it once the Senate gives its final approval. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The $50-billion measure includes efforts aimed at the prevention and treatment of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis over five years. The bill reauthorizes and expands a current program, which is due to expire in September.

President Bush first proposed the program in his 2003 State of the Union address. At the time, he sought - and Congress approved - $15 billion for the initiative. The program has been widely praised for helping to treat hundreds of thousands of people suffering from AIDS and putting the United States at the forefront of global efforts to fight the disease.

Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led the debate in support of the bill. A frequent critic of President Bush, Biden says he has no dispute with the president over this program.

"I am often critical of the president's foreign policy and his aid programs," said Senator Biden. "But the President of the United States, George W. Bush, deserves great credit. If the president did nothing else in his administration, this is justification enough for his legacy to be looked back on favorably because of the phenomenal and dramatic impact this initiative has and will have on the rest of the world."

The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, says there are a number of reasons why he supports the bill.

"They come down to the saving of hundreds of thousands of lives, the alleviation of extraordinary suffering on this earth, and I would simply say from the standpoint of our foreign policy one of the strongest ways in which the United States has made an impact on a number of countries in which our public diplomacy or diplomacy of any sort has not been very successful in the past," said Senator Lugar. "We make an impact because people in those countries know we care."

Several Republican conservatives expressed concern that the legislation had expanded beyond the original intent of President Bush's proposal in 2003. They offered amendments to limit the scope of the bill, but the measures were voted down Tuesday.

The legislation authorizes the programs, but does not fund them. The money will have to be approved by Congress in a separate appropriations bill. Most of the funding would be spent on aids prevention and treatment, while $5 billion would go toward malaria programs and $4 billion to tuberculosis programs.