Michael Gerson

It is common practice on Capitol Hill to name bills in such a way that only a monster could oppose or veto them. So every pork-laden exercise in congressional logrolling is knighted with a title like the Infant and Maternal Health, Family Farm Survival, Environmental Safety, Stray Animal Welfare, Equity, Hope and Empowerment, Civil Rights Act of 2000-whatever.

The reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), in contrast, was named after two recently deceased members of the House of Representatives: Tom Lantos and Henry Hyde. Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, recognized unnecessary death when he saw it. Hyde dedicated his political life to the dignity of human life. And both knew how legislative compromise could serve an honorable cause.

Five years ago, while shepherding the first AIDS bill through the House, these leaders struck an agreement: They separated AIDS relief from the partisan debate over abortion. Funding for prevention focused on a proven approach known as ABC -- practice abstinence, be faithful and use condoms. The program also helped provide AIDS treatment on a large scale for the first time.

When the emergency plan was announced, there were about 50,000 people on AIDS drugs in sub-Saharan Africa. Today there are about 1.4 million. It is perhaps the most successful foreign assistance effort since the Marshall Plan.

Earlier this year, the Lantos-Hyde compromise seemed to be unraveling. Some congressional Democrats pushed for more expansive family planning within AIDS programs -- which a number of conservatives interpreted as a push for abortion rights. Some congressional Republicans seemed primed for a culture-war battle, with the people of Africa as the main victims.

Instead, we saw a last-minute, late-night outbreak of sanity. Negotiators chose, once again, to skirt the abortion issue. Republicans kept a provision that prohibits funding for groups that support the legalization of prostitution. Democrats achieved an $11 billion increase in AIDS funding above the president's request; they also put an end to the 33 percent set-aside in PEPFAR's prevention funding for abstinence and faithfulness programs. Both sides seemed pleased with additional money to fight malaria and tuberculosis and expand medical infrastructure.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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