Three years have passed since President Bush committed America to the "massive and complicated undertaking" of fighting AIDS on a global scale. And the question that confronts the Congress is this: are we going to stay the course and prioritize funding the fight, or are we going to cut back?
Fighting global AIDS generally unites us rather than divide us; the stakes are too high not to confront a disease that has already claimed 25 million lives, a pandemic that claims 6,000 lives each day, a tsunami of death every week. And tragically, it has left 11 million children orphaned in Sub-Saharan African alone in its wake.
As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated, "HIV/AIDS is not only a human tragedy of enormous magnitude; it is also a threat to the stability of entire countries and to entire regions of the world." Leaders in both parties have understood that it is not enough merely to express the right sentiments, or offer up words of empathy or exhortation. In appropriations made and budgets passed, we have made good on the promises our country has made to the world.
Recently, however, several conservative allies have expressed opposition to my efforts with Sen. Dick Durbin to increase funding for the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
Let me explain.
First, I commend the president and my colleagues for passing the historic bill in 2003 that authorized $15 billion over five years to combat international AIDS. Sen. Durbin and I have led the bipartisan efforts not only to keep this promise, but to set the international pace by appropriating more annually than the president has requested.
In part, this is because an estimated 40 million people are living with a disease that is both easily preventable and easily treatable, yet a chasm exists between those in need and the resources necessary for their health and security.
America has stood in the gap. We are making progress. We are restoring hope. Now is not the time to back off.
This year's budget is a particular challenge. The president's 2007 budget request for global AIDS is $4.83 billion, an increase of $900 million over last year. Since the authorization bill first passed, I have maintained a commitment to fully fund the president's "bilateral" budget requests (PEPFAR) as well as contributing $1 for every $2 from other countries to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Former Senator Rick Santorum is the author of Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works.
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