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Bush/Congress in Fighting AIDS/Malaria/TB
  NY Times
Published: February 2, 2007
At a time of intensifying conflict between President Bush and Democrats in Congress over the Iraq war, the Democratic-led House acted this week to rescue another of Mr. Bush's international priorities: the global fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, diseases that kill millions of Africans each year.
That Democrats stepped in to champion Mr. Bush's signature global health undertakings suggests the deepening of political support for foreign aid programs, especially those that quickly demonstrate they can save hundreds of thousands of lives. It also bucks a historical pattern of declining support for foreign assistance when control of Congress and the White House is divided between Democrats and Republicans.
"We're in a different world now," said Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, who heads the appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid. "This is the first time since Sept. 11 we've had a power split in Washington, and there's a growing recognition among the public and policy makers that foreign assistance is critical to stability around the world."
The administration's drive for a rapid strengthening of programs to prevent and treat AIDS and malaria had been caught in limbo. The departing Republican-led Congress had failed to pass spending bills to finance most federal agencies this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, including those that administer foreign aid.
But the new Democratic leadership agreed this week to give the administration $4.5 billion this year to combat the big three global pandemics, $500 million more than the president himself had requested and over $1 billion more than if the undertakings had been required to continue at the previous year's spending levels.
The House on Wednesday approved the global health financing as part of an omnibus budget measure. The Senate is expected to take up the bill as early as next week.
Under Mr. Bush, aid to Africa has risen to more than twice the level of any previous administration and more than triple that achieved during the Clinton administration, according to an analysis by the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research group in Washington.
But Mr. Bush will need the Democrats to sustain the growth. And while Congress has embraced increased global health spending, it was not as generous to Mr. Bush's other foreign aid innovation: the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an agency that aims to reduce poverty through grants to well-governed developing countries. It approved continuing last year's spending level of $1.75 billion for the agency, far short of the $3 billion Mr. Bush requested for this year. Some Democrats in Congress have complained that the agency has been too slow to spend the money it has and to show results.
"The politics of aid in this country probably has shifted on push-button issues like H.I.V./AIDS," said Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. "It's the longer-term development that's much harder to do and build political backing for. Those are the things that will come under pressure in a Washington with a split government."
Still, this week's progress on global health provides a marker of how much both parties have changed since the Clinton years. Then, the Republican Senator Jesse Helms attacked foreign aid as money poured down a rathole before he had a change of heart. President Clinton, now a leading advocate for global AIDS treatment and prevention programs, failed to muster an American response commensurate with the scale of the dying, many critics say.
Now, both parties compete to claim the mantle of leadership. Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who heads the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, said Democrats in Congress had pushed even harder in recent months than the White House for AIDS spending.
Tim Rieser, who has been the lead Democratic staff member on the same Senate subcommittee since 1995, said: "When Clinton was president, he didn't make AIDS the priority he should have. President Bush saw the opportunity and deserves credit for that. But it's not like he owns the issue. We all - Democrats and Republicans - have urged that much more be done."
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