House Votes to Boost AIDS Funding, Cut Abstinence Education

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

( - The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted to increase funding to $50 billion -- from a proposed $30 billion -- for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, a move that House Republicans say is too costly and would help to fund abortions abroad.

"Each and every day, another 6,000 people become infected with HIV," said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "We have a moral imperative to act, and to act decisively.

"As a direct result of the extraordinarily successful law we passed five years ago, the United States has provided life-saving drugs to nearly 1.5 million men, women and children; supported care for nearly 7 million people, including 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children; and prevented an estimated 150,000 infant infections around the world," he said.

The 2003 law provided $15 billion over five years, while the legislation passed by the House Wednesday authorized $50 billion for the next five years. President Bush had requested a $30 billion reauthorization, and House Republicans failed on a vote of 248 to 175 to secure funding at that level.

The bill provides at least 20 percent of the funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, including a minimum of 50 percent of which is allocated to "balanced funding for prevention activities for sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS" that "shall ensure that behavioral change programs, including abstinence, delay of sexual debut, monogamy, fidelity and partner reduction, are implemented and funded in a meaningful and equitable way in the strategy for each host country based on objective epidemiological evidence as to the source of infections and in consultation with the government of each host county involved in HIV/AIDS prevention activities."

"Researchers increasingly agree that curbing behavior is key to slowing the spread of AIDS in Africa," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), adding that condom availability and usage have not curbed infection rates.

He noted that "close to 70 percent of the estimated 33 million people with HIV live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 2.5 million children afflicted with this dreaded disease, 90 percent live in Africa as well."

Smith said the $50 billion "will likely prevent 12 million new HIV infections worldwide, and support treatment for 3 million people, including an estimated 450,000 children."

"That sum of money will also provide care to 12 million individuals with HIV/AIDS, including 5 million orphans and vulnerable children, and will help train and deploy at least 140,000 new health care professionals and workers for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care," he added.

Since 2001, overall funding to Africa has increased nearly four-fold - from $1.4 billion to $5.2 billion for fiscal year 2009.

"PEPFAR has been a successful program, in large part because of the bipartisan way in which it was established," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

But, he added, "I'm disappointed the Majority turned back a balanced Republican alternative that would have authorized funding for the PEPFAR program at the level requested by President Bush, while protecting taxpayers from funding programs that support abortions overseas.

"This fiscally responsible plan would have ensured the good work of PEPFAR would continue well into the future without asking American taxpayers to spend more than necessary to keep the program on strong financial footing," he said.

Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) called it a "blank check for abortionists abroad." He noted that "the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found the program couldn't spend in 10 years what the majority believes it can in five."

The CBO has determined the cost of implementing relief programs through PEPFAR is nearly $14 billion less than the amount authorized in the legislation.

"Despite efforts by some Republican members of Congress to limit the funding it provides, the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5501) was approved 306 to 116," Berman countered.

"The legislation overturns the controversial and ineffective 1/3 abstinence-only requirement that applies to global HIV/AIDS prevention funding, which was included in the 2003 law over the objections of the then-Democratic minority," he said.

"This restriction has subsequently proven to hamper the effectiveness of health care efforts in the field, as documented in recent, independent reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)," said Berman.

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