WASHINGTON – Promoting his $15 billion AIDS initiative project, President Bush said Tuesday that the global fight against the spread of HIV is integral to U.S. foreign policy.
"HIV-AIDS (search) is a tragedy for millions of men women and children and a threat to stability of entire countries and regions of our world," Bush said in a White House speech.
"Confronting this tragedy is the responsibility of every nation," the president said as he tried to kick-start negotiations on Capitol Hill to finish legislation aimed at handing out billions to nations with epidemic levels of the disease.
Since Bush announced his AIDS package in January, 760,000 people have died, 1.2 million have been infected and more than 175,000 babies have been born infected, he said.
"Time is not on our side," Bush said. "So I ask Congress to move forward with the speed and seriousness this crises requires."
With Operation Iraqi Freedom all but over, Bush's speech Tuesday was part of his renewed focus on the "compassionate conservative" items on his agenda. The president said he hopes to sign the package by Memorial Day.
He also thanked Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson (search), chairman of the global AIDS fund, for spearheading the project, as well as Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was instrumental in putting the issue on the administration's table.
The president added that it is the responsibility of the international community to confront the "grave, public health crisis.
White House staffers are hammering out the details of the AIDS package with Capitol Hill staff. Bush has found a strong ally on this topic so far with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who likely will help shepherd the bill through that chamber quickly.
But the House appears to be in better shape to pass a bill soon. The House International Relations Committee passed legislation earlier this month that closely reflects Bush's plan.
Sponsored by chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the measure would set aside $15 billion over five years to expand AIDS treatment worldwide through low-cost drugs.
Bush also wants "prevention education rooted in the proven abstinence-based approach," the White House said.
But the committee rejected an amendment stating that promoting abstinence and monogamy should be top agenda items for the initiative, an issue that family groups say should be addressed in the bill.
The panel instead adopted a measure offered by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., that doesn't give preference to any one preventive method. Supporters of this plan say the initiative can't focus on any one strategy when local customs vary widely around the world.
Of the $15 billion, Bush would channel $14 billion directly to other countries, with the other $1 billion going to the Swiss-based, public-private Global Fund to Combat AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (search), which Thompson chairs.
The House bill would allow up to $1 billion to be given to the Global Fund in the 2004 budget year, and includes oversight authority to make sure the fund is run efficiently. The White House wants $200 million a year over five years for the fund.
Money would also be used to combat tuberculosis and malaria.
Critics of the Bush plan want the United States to give more money to the global fund. The White House says it already gives the fund half its money, and that the United States wants tighter reins over where the AIDS money is spent.
But Bush on Tuesday pointed out that since January 2001, the United States has increased its global AIDS funding by 100 percent, and $106 billion has already been pledged to the Global Fund.
"That is by far the most of any nation in the world today," Bush said, also noting that last year, he launched an initiative to prevent the transfer of AIDS from mothers to their children in Africa and the Caribbean.
"These are vital efforts but we must do far more," the president added.
The White House strongly supports the "ABC" approach to halting the epidemic: "A" for abstinence, "B" for be faithful and "C" for using condoms when appropriate.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer pointed to the Ugandan model, an "ABC" behavioral approach also endorsed in the Hyde bill, as the key to a successful approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"Congress should make the Ugandan approach the model for our efforts," Bush said, adding that infection rates there have fallen since the early 1990s.
The bill could go to the full House for a vote as early as Thursday. The White House said it expects the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take it up next week. Final votes are likely to come next month, administration officials said.
Some 25 million people have died from AIDS and that number could rise to 80 million by 2010, Hyde said. Bush also relayed dire mortality rates for AIDS victims in places such as South Africa. Just 1 percent of the nearly 4 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who need treatment are actually receiving it, Bush said.
"We can turn our eyes away in resignation or despair or we can take decisive historic action to turn the tide against this disease and give the hope of life to millions who need our help now. The United States of America chooses the path of action and the path of hope," Bush said.
"The people with this disease cannot be written off as expendable."
Kate Carr, president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and a supporter of the Hyde bill, said Tuesday's Rose Garden speech is significant for the tens of millions of people worldwide suffering from HIV and AIDS.
The fact that Bush is expanding his focus on the war in Iraq and his tax cut plan to talk about AIDS "sends a very important signal, and we hope Congress gets the message," Carr said.
Before his address, Bush met with representatives of the public health community and other officials in a roundtable discussion on the AIDS issue. He said one part of his plan is to convert Peace Corps workers to Africa AIDS workers.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.