WASHINGTON – The Senate on Wednesday approved a $48 billion program to treat and prevent AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, tripling the amount set aside in landmark legislation first passed five years ago.
The legislation, approved 80-16, came after an impassioned debate that had stalled for weeks over objections by conservatives about the bill’s cost, the role of abstinence education and control over how money is spent.
Most Senate Republicans joined Democrats in backing the measure, which had the support of the White House. President Bush called for the 2003 initiative in his State of the Union speech that year and favored a renewal of the program this year. In Congress, the effort was seen as an important U.S. foreign policy initiative.
“It’s one of the strongest ways the U.S. has made an impact on a number of countries where our diplomacy hasn’t been effective in the past,” said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.
The bill, known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief of 2003, sets an ambitious five-year goal of helping prevent 7 million HIV infections and caring for 10 million people infected with HIV or AIDS.
The program currently supports life-saving antiretroviral treatment for more than 1.7 million people living with HIV or AIDS in 15 focus countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. When Bush called for the program in 2003, only 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa received treatment, the White House said.
Advocates of AIDS prevention and treatment praised the measure. But they also expressed concern about provisions that increase in the amount of money required to go toward abstinence, or “be faithful,” education.
The House passed its version of the bill by nearly a 3-1 margin in April. The legislation now goes to a House-Senate conference committee, where lawmakers can work out differences before sending the measure to Bush.