Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who vigorously has fought homosexual rights, wants to reduce the amount of federal money spent on AIDS sufferers because, he says, it is their “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct” that is responsible for their disease.
Moreover, he argues, AIDS is only the ninthleading cause of death in the United States but accounts for more federal financing than diseases that kill more people (an assertion not supported by Public Health Service figures).
“We’ve got to have some common sense,” Helms maintained in an interview, “about a disease transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts.”
AIDS is the leading cause of death among men and women from 25 to 44 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The senator’s determination to reduce AIDS spending comes as Congress considers reauthorizing the Ryan White Care Act of 1990, a five-year federal program for the care and treatment of people with AIDS. The law, named for an Indiana teenager who died after contracting AIDS through a tainted blood product, expires at the end of September.
Despite broad bipartisan support for the measure in both houses of Congress, it appears stalled.
In the Senate, the bill has cleared the committee level but has yet to reach the floor. This is in large measure due to Helms, given the latitude any single member of the Senate has to tie up proceedings. But some critics say it also is due to the majority leader, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and his presidential campaign. For his part, Dole says he is moving the matter “forward.”
In the House, the bill is stalled in committee, opposed by a coalition of religious groups unless the legislation requires mandatory testing of newborns for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. That provision is resisted by advocates for AIDS sufferers.
When Helms compared spending on different health issues, he counted only those sums spent for research, prevention and housing. But Public Health Service figures show that when all federal money, including Medicaid and Medicare, is taken into account, total annual federal outlays for heart disease ($36.3 billion) and cancer ($16.9 billion) dwarf those for AIDS ($6 billion).
On March 29, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee unanimously approved reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act, although in keeping with the budget-slashing on Capitol Hill, the annual authorization was cut nearly 22 percent - to $690 million from the 1990 authorization of $880 million.