Fighting Over Fighting HIV
Time for an update on the $50 billion bill before Congress to re-authorize the PEPFAR legislation.
There is a group of conservative US Senators holding up a vote in the Senate on the reauthorization of the bill for PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Action Plan for AIDS Relief.
A June 11 piece on Politico spells out the problem for the everyday reader:
President Bush's program to fight HIV/AIDS is considered by Republicans and Democrats alike to be one of the unvarnished foreign policy successes of his presidency. So why has broad bipartisan legislation seeking to more than triple the program's funding to $50 billion caused such a rancorous fight? Ask Sen. Tom Coburn, M.D. The Oklahoma Republican, along with six other social conservatives, has put a hold on the bill in the Senate, unless a provision is added to direct most of the spending toward treatment for HIV/AIDS rather than toward prevention and other priorities. Otherwise, Coburn said, "the vast majority of the money is going to get consumed by those wanting to help people with HIV, rather than [by] people with HIV." Coburn argues that treatment of HIV/AIDS-affected individuals usually drops their viral load to the point where they will not infect other people, and thus, it's "the No. 1 prevention protocol we have."
Coburn is the junior senator from Oklahoma and one of the few MDs currently serving in Congress. As a conservative, a Southern Baptist, and a Republican, he otherwise gets good marks. For example, Family Research Council granted a 100 rating to Coburn for his 2006 vote record.
But, Coburn and others are taking lots of heat from the faith community that supports the current legislation. Some 36 organizations have signed on to a declaration to ask Senators to vote on PEPFAR and another measure to extend debt relief to the poorest nations.
One of the big reasons the political pressure is on now is that President Bush will be going to the G 8 Summit, which this summer will be in Japan. The Washington Post reported in early June that Bush hopes to pressure G 8 nations for follow through on allocating more money to fight the spread of HIV. If Congress has approved $50 billion in more spending, that might persuade other leaders that the US is in this fight for the long haul.
Actually, a growing concern is overheated, over-moralizing rhetoric. There's a new term on the net for this kind of approach. It is being called: Gersonism, after Mike Gerson, former Bush speechwriter. Read about that here.
Who's got the greater truth here, Gerson or Coburn?