On May 15, the Senate passed H.R. 1298, "US Leadership Against AIDS, TB and Malaria"a victory on our priorities of Global Health and Debt Relief. Thank you for all your great work on these issues!
After sustained advocacy by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, dioceses, parishes and many others, the bill contains several provisions that reflect some of our priorities on these issues:
- authorization for $3 billion to combat health crises in 2004, and similar levels of funding for 2005-2008;
- an amendment assuring that 33% of monies for AIDS prevention would go to sexual abstinence and fidelity programs;
- a Conscience Clause' amendment which would ensure that organizations such as Catholic Relief Services would be given full access to U.S. funds to serve the needs of those infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, without the threat of discrimination because of religious or moral convictions; and
- an amendment saying that the U.S. should work with other creditors to provide increased debt relief to poor countries sufficient to reduce annual payments no more than 10% of government revenues and, in the case of countries suffering a public health crisis, no more than 5% of government revenues (based on a proposal developed by USCCB).
Background on Legislation and USCCB Advocacy: On January 28, 2003, President Bush announced that the U.S. would contribute $15 billion ($10 billion of which would be new money) over the next five years to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria abroad.
On February 11, 2003, members from the U.S. Catholic community participating in the Annual Social Ministry Gathering took our messages on Global Health and Debt Relief (see www.usccb.org/sdwp) to Capitol Hill and back to their Diocesan legislative and social action networks. In March, April and May, Bishop John Ricard, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Policy, wrote members of Congress to encourage significant and immediate increases in funding for morally and culturally appropriate programs to combat HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases, the inclusion of a Conscience Clause' amendment, and provision for deeper debt relief for poor countries.
In mid-March, the House of Representatives began work on the President's initiative with the introduction of H.R. 1298, "U.S. Leadership Against AIDS, TB and Malaria." On May 1, the House passed H.R. 1298, however the legislation did not include a provision for increased debt relief.
On May 15, Senator Frist introduced H.R. 1298 into the Senate and in an effort to expedite passage, employed a strategy of accepting no amendments to the bill. At 2 a.m. Friday morning, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) offered a debt relief amendment, explaining that the amendment had the support of all Senate Democrats as well as at least four Republicans and, after hours of negotiation earlier in the day, the assent of the White House. Senator Santorum (R-PA), a key proponent of the debt relief amendment, provided assurance that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) had also agreed to accept the debt relief amendment.
The debt relief amendment passed by a voice vote and final passage of H.R. 1298, as amended, occurred shortly thereafter. The bill is expected to return to the House of Representatives for another vote, and then go to the White House for the President's signature early next week.
There is one more step in this process, however. While this legislation authorizes the Administration to spend federal dollars on these important programs, Congress must still actually approve the funds. This appropriation process will begin this summer and you can look for alerts from us as the process unfolds.
For more information, contact IJP staff at: 202-541-3199.