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Senators Debate Bush Administration AIDS Policy - 2004-05-18

Opposition U.S. lawmakers say President Bush is spending too little to fight AIDS around the world at a time he is asking for more money to fight in Iraq, but the administration says it is budgeting more money for AIDS control than any other country and is appealing to other donors to spend more. The debate came at a Senate hearing.

President Bush is asking Congress to supply $2.8 billion next year for international AIDS relief. It is part of his new emergency program that ultimately will spend $15 billion to fight the virus over five years in 14 African and Caribbean nations that account for half of the world's HIV infections.

But Democratic Party members of the Senate committee that appropriates money fault the amount as too little.

At a hearing with Randall Tobias, President Bush's Global AIDS Coordinator, Senator Patrick Leahy noted that the AIDS relief plan does not cover countries responsible for the other half of HIV cases. He said the president should ask for ten times more money for 2005.

?Over the next five years, you say you hope to prevent seven million new HIV infections,? he said. ?But there are five million new ones each year. So even if you succeed, there will be at least 18 million newly infected people by the end of five years, 2.5 times the number prevented.?

Mr. Tobias defended President Bush's program as focused on the countries with the worst AIDS epidemics. He says the 2005 budget request is not larger because the recipient countries do not have the infrastructure to absorb more money. He pointed out that part of the money will be used to build such capacity. Mr. Tobias acknowledged the limits of the Bush plan, but said that the United States is still the most generous donor to international AIDS programs.

?There's no question the magnitude of this problem goes well beyond the resources and the focus of the president's emergency plan,? he responded. ?I don't think the emergency plan was intended to attack the entire problem. We need to get more resources and more participation from other people in the world.?

Democratic Senator Richard Durban complains that the entire five year, $15 billion AIDS program is less than the extra $25 billion the president is seeking to fight the war in Iraq this year. He says the global AIDS war is not going well.

?I'm just troubled that with such facility we talk about $25 billion more here and $50 billion more there,? he said. ?When it comes to these issues of the war on AIDS and tuberculosis, frankly we're talking about a hollow army and a hollow commitment.?

However, Randall Tobias called Mr. Bush's emergency AIDS program an unprecedented act of compassion.

Senator Durbin said that he and other lawmakers are seeking to increase the president's 2005 AIDS spending request by $500 million, just as they added $400 million to his 2004 request