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Not Fast Enough on AIDS

How long will Africans have to wait for the U.S. Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief?

August 5, 2003

How long will Africans have to wait for the U.S. Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief?

For most people, the term "emergency" describes a situation where one has to move with speed and determination to prevent dire consequences from happening.

One would expect this to apply to President Bush's "Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief" (which calls for $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean) as well.

And yet, despite the appropriate use of the word "Emergency" in the title, the new budget account has not moved particularly quickly through the U.S. legislative process.

This is disquieting because the President has taken credit in speeches for the proposal, held a splashy ceremony in late May 2003 to sign legislation that authorizes (but puts no real money into) the fund — and lectured other countries to be more generous.

The truth is that the fund is still weeks away from getting real money.

This leads to two rather unpleasant conclusions. The first is how quickly the government can move to take legislative action when it wants to — and how, in this case, it does not.

For example: President Bush announced his tax bill in January of this year. Five months later, he signed the version that emerged from Congress into law.

Likewise, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the President and Congress moved quickly to implement a series of counter-terrorism measures. This included an initial supplemental package that was passed by Congress on September 14 — and signed by the President on the 18th.

After the initial shock, the Administration pulled together a larger inter-agency funding package that was submitted to the U.S. Congress in late March 2002.

The package moved quickly through the House and Senate before being signed into law slightly over four months later.

Another example: The Iraq War Supplemental bill was signed into law on April 16, 2003 — less than one month after the President's formal request was made.

Even the normal pace of legislation for annual defense expenditures moves faster than the "emergency" AIDS package. In the past three years, the average time it took for the defense appropriations bill to pass was less than nine months. This year, it is not expected to be any different.

The first three appropriations bills to pass both the House and Senate this summer are the bill for the defense department, the bill that funds military construction — and the bill that covers Congress's own budget.

Last year, the only appropriations bills to be signed into law roughly on schedule — and four months ahead of all other federal spending — were the defense and military construction bills.

Somehow Congress manages to consider funding options for the military and Pentagon programs on a schedule that does not slow down defense spending.

Now, no one would dispute that the September 11 terrorist attacks were an unprecedented national emergency and the rapid pace of the response was warranted. Nor am I suggesting that the troops in Iraq should not get the support they require and deserve.

But it's clear that the "emergency" AIDS package — which ideally would have been developed much earlier in the Administration — is not getting the same speedy treatment as other emergencies or even the tax cut.

At the same time, the size of the AIDS package is getting whittled down, from $3 billion in the first year to $2 billion.

How Fast Is An Emergency?
Time from
Proposal to Enactment
FY 2001 Response to Sept. 11th Terrorist Attacks  
One week
FY 2002 Response to Sept. 11th Terrorist Attacks
Four months
FY 2003 Iraq War Supplemental Funding Bill
Less than one month
2003 Tax Relief Bill
Five months
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief
Six months and counting …
Source: The Author. Copyright © 2003 The Globalist.

It could be worse: The President's other major development aid initiative — the Millennium Challenge Account, originally announced in March 2002 — is taking twice as long as the Emergency AIDS plan to get going and proposals for its funding are being slashed.

Why does timing matter? Isn't it more important to launch a well-conceived program than to move money? Yes, but speed is important — and U.S. dollars can make a difference.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has approved two rounds of grants. So there is already a mechanism in place to move money quickly and support activities in the field.

AIDS activists estimate that every day, 9,500 Africans are infected with HIV — and 6,500 die of AIDS.

In the past half year, while the President has claimed credit for a new program, over one million people have died. This is not generous — it is callous.

Hence a second unpleasant conclusion: The Administration and Congress are prepared to let a large number of people contract HIV or die of AIDS before they do something serious about the problem.

Who is at fault? The President is calling on Congress to act swiftly — but he did not push for his AIDS proposal to be exempt from budget limits (as other emergency funding packages have been).

Embarrassed by the breakdown in the budget process, this year Congress is moving more quickly on all of the appropriations bills.

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