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US Congress Set to Consider Spending for Global AIDS Initiative - 2003-07-23

The House of Representatives is set to consider a foreign operations spending bill that includes money to fund President Bush's global AIDS initiative. However, Democrats were unsuccessful in their attempt to add more money for AIDS to the amount to be spent in 2004.

President Bush last January proposed spending $15 billion on AIDS treatment and prevention over the next five years, a major increase in the U.S. commitment to battle AIDS.

However, what president's initially recommend in spending for key programs, and what finally emerges from the congressional budget process are often very different.

Democrats who supported the AIDS legislation Mr. Bush signed in May were upset when the administration requested only $2 billion for the 2004 fiscal year, rather than $3 billion authorized by the original legislation. Underfunding the AIDS initiative in its first year, Democrats said, gives the impression the president is not as serious about his effort as first thought.

After the president's Africa trip, Barbara Lee, a California Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, pointed to what she calls a "credibility gap" in the president's handling of the AIDS budget. "I think it's very important that out of this visit to Africa, that the president not raise the hopes of people on the continent, and come back and not follow up with the dollars and actual initiatives to match what the rhetoric has been," she said.

The White House rejects the assertion that President Bush is not following through with commitments made in his State of the Union address, saying the president has not wavered in his support of the plan to help AIDS sufferers.

Democrats vowed to restore the one-billion dollars lost in the budgeting process. However, Republicans blocked a Democratic attempt to have the full $3 billion allocated in 2004. Congresswoman Nita Lowey said "it is truly a shame, that the White House opposed this amendment when I offered it during full committee consideration of the bill. These funds are needed, and can be used effectively next year."

Mrs. Lowey disputed the statement by Republican chairman of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Congressman Jim Kolbe, that it would be "unrealistic" to spend $3 billion in the first year of the AIDS initiative since the program was just getting started.

Also included in the $17 billion foreign operations bill is military assistance to Israel ($2.2 billion), Egypt ($1.3 billion) and Jordan ($206 million) and funding for the World Bank and other financial institutions.

The Millenium Challenge Account (MCA), which provides assistance to countries following free market and democratic principles and respecting human rights, receives $800 million. This is less than the $1.3 billion requested by the administration.

The Senate has yet to vote on its version of the 2004 foreign appropriations bill, which contains about $1 billion dollars more in spending than the House legislation.

House and Senate bills also contain about $700 million for the administration's Andean Counterdrug Initiative and other money for international narcotics control programs.