by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
efforts by Democratic lawmakers to boost next year's U.S. contribution to the global fight against AIDS were narrowly defeated in a key Congressional committee July 16, spurring charges that Bush, who just returned from a five-day trip to Africa last weekend, had betrayed the expectations he created while there.
Pointing to a letter sent to lawmakers by the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, Joseph O'Neill, backers of an amendment that would have provided a total of $3 billion to the global anti-AIDS fight for fiscal year 2004, said Bush had violated his own promises in Africa to fight for full funding of his five-year $15-billion AIDS package.
The amendment, put forward by New York Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, was defeated in a 33-28 vote. Only one Republican voted with the Democrats.
Instead, the Republican majority on the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives bowed to O'Neill's request to approve only $2.1 billion for FY 2004 pursuant to an administration plan to gradually increase assistance over the five years.
"The president raised expectations in Africa that he would in fact deliver (the full funding)," said Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance (GAA). "This will only raise questions in the minds of Africans about whether the president can be believed."
"I don't want the rest of the world to think we say one thing and we do less," said Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, a Michigan Democrat, who had offered an amendment to increase assistance next year from $2.1 to $2.5 billion. Her amendment was defeated in a 28-27 vote.
The $2.1 billion will come from two packages: $1.4 billion from the $17.1 billion 2004 foreign aid appropriations bill, and another $644 million from a second appropriations bill. While both houses of Congress must still vote on the two bills, the decisions of the House appropriations committee are likely to be upheld.
Both votes came amid bad news elsewhere on the global AIDS front. In Paris, donors to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria ended a key meeting without providing major new pledges of funds for the multilateral facility established two years ago to provide assistance quickly for projects to fight AIDS, which currently claims about 7,000 lives each day, in Africa alone.
Organizers said current pledges to the Fund will provide only 4.7 billion dollars to 2007 and that the facility could technically suffer a shortfall of as much as $400 million this year if it does not get a major infusion of new funding. The Fund itself has estimated that will need seven billion dollars annually by 2007 to keep up with soaring demand, both in Africa, but increasingly in Asia and Russia, as well.
"Over the months ahead, we have to make further steps forward," said the Fund's executive director, Richard Feachem. "The aim is to rise to the cruising altitude...which is seven billion a year to be achieved by 2007 and to get to that cruising altitude, it's important to keep up the pace."
Bush has been particularly tight-fisted with the Global Fund. While Congress earmarked up to 1 billion dollars for the Fund in its foreign aid authorization bill last month, Bush has insisted that he will only commit $200 million a year for the foreseeable future.
Because the U.S. normally provides between 25 and 33 percent of the budget of multilateral agencies like the Fund, AIDS activists have complained that Bush is making it much harder for the Fund to raise nearly enough money from other countries to reach its target of seven billion dollars by 2007. Ironically, the Fund's chairman is Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson.
"The U.S. has taken control of the leadership of the Global Fund, and then ensured that it doesn't have the money to deal with the problem," said Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action. "He's exploited Africans' suffering to present himself on his trip as a compassionate conservative, when in reality he is a callous and cynical antagonist in the global fight against AIDS who is undermining the most important vehicle for combating the epidemic."
Bush's stinginess proved too much even for his fellow Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee July 16 who ignored O'Neill' request to limit the U.S. contribution to the Fund next year to $200 million. Instead, the Committee allocated a total of $500 million for the Fund, the amount favored by the chairman of the Foreign Operations subcommittee, Arizona Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe.
But the fact that O'Neill called explicitly for the Committee to limit contribution to the Fund to only $200 million further outraged AIDS activists.
"The president could simply have accepted the increase approved by the subcommittee," said Zeitz. "Instead he had actively discouraged increased funding. This is an outrage, especially when the Fund is facing such a massive shortfall in funding available for projects that can effectively use them."
Activists have argued since Bush first proposed his five-year, $15-billion AIDS package that, because the epidemic constitutes such an emergency, the money should be disbursed very quickly, with the full three billion dollars for the first year going out as soon as possible. Congress responded by allocating three billion dollars in the foreign aid authorization bill that was approved last month, on the eve of Bush's trip.
Activists warned at the time, however, that the authorization amount was meaningless if Bush failed to fight for the three billion dollars in the appropriations committee, which is constrained by budget limits.
During Bush's trip, he and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said repeatedly that they would fight hard for "full funding," but they never made clear whether they were referring to the three billion dollars in the authorization bill or for the two billion dollars Bush had originally requested for 2004. So his reference to "full funding" encouraged his African hosts to believe that he was demanding the full three billion dollars.
During Bush's trip, even Kolbe expressed annoyance that Bush was creating expectations that would not be met because of the serious budget constraints facing Congress this year, especially in light of the unexpected costs of the war in Iraq. At one point, Kolbe complained that Bush "continues to compound the problem" of expectations that will inevitably be disappointed.
To Booker, the defeat of Lowey's amendment to add $1 billion in emergency funding for next year was a particularly bitter pill, coming just a few days after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shocked lawmakers when he told them that the costs of the Iraq occupation will come to $4 billion a month -- twice what the Pentagon had projected before the war.
"Bush is spending $1 billion every week on an unpopular military occupation in which Americans and Iraqis are being killed on a daily basis " said Booker. "Yet he opposes spending an extra 1 billion in a whole year that could save tens of thousands of lives in Africa to stop the greatest threat to human security in the world today. For him to waltz around Africa as a 'compassionate conservative' is just plain obscene."
July 17, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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