WASHINGTON – A House subcommittee voted Wednesday to give President Bush (search) the full $2.2 billion he wants for battling AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in poor countries overseas next year.
But underlining the budget pressures lawmakers are facing, the Republican-run panel opted to give Bush just half the $2.5 billion he proposed for aid to countries adopting democratic reforms.
The money was included in a $19.4 billion foreign aid bill that the House Appropriations (search) foreign operations subcommittee approved by voice vote. The legislation, while $1.9 billion over this year's level, is $1.9 billion below what Bush requested.
"Given our allocation, I could not recommend full funding for this initiative, important as it is," subcommittee Chairman Jim Kolbe (search), R-Ariz., said of his cut in Bush's plan for the Millennium Challenge Corp., the federal board that provides aid to countries embracing reforms.
The panel's top Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said that considering budget pressures, she was satisfied with the AIDS funds.
The foreign aid measure, like most spending bills lawmakers are writing for the coming budget year, is under pressure as Bush and Congress siphon large increases to the military.
The $1.25 billion for Millennium Challenge was $256 million over this year's level. Even so, the decision left supporters of the program unhappy.
"Millennium Challenge could be the most important U.S. initiative to help poor countries in a generation," said Seth Amgott, spokesman for the group DATA, which lobbies for aid for Africa and is headed by the rock star Bono. "It won't be without sharp increases in funding, and that will take hard work by the administration."
The AIDS funds represent an ongoing effort by Bush and lawmakers to boost the drive for helping poverty-stricken countries, mostly in Africa. On Wednesday, Bush made Vietnam the 15th nation eligible for the assistance.
The $2.2 billion — most of which is for AIDS — is expected to be supplemented by another $600 million from a later spending bill yet to be written.
Congress provided $2.4 billion this year. It is part of what is supposed to be a five-year, $15 billion effort.
The overall bill also has:
—No aid for Iraq, with the administration so far saying much of the $18.4 billion provided last fall is still available;
—$400 million for the Afghan army, $350 million over this year;
—$300 million in military aid for Pakistan;
—$66 million for Poland, a $46 million increase for a country that has sent troops to Iraq;
—$311 million for refugees in Sudan
—more than $2.2 billion for Israel.