Senate Panel Boosts AIDS Funding

A Senate committee voted Wednesday to boost funds for battling AIDS (search) and other diseases in poor nations, but provided less than half what President Bush wanted for prodding countries to adopt democratic reforms.

The effort to combat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis abroad — largely in Africa — would get $2.4 billion next year, $200 million more than Bush proposed. But the $1.1 billion for the Millennium Challenge (searchprogram, which provides extra aid to countries embracing democratic and free-market practices, was well below the $2.5 billion he requested.

The AIDS and Millennium Challenge funds were part of a $19.5 billion foreign aid bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved.

The House has approved a similar reduction in Millennium Challenge, as lawmakers have shown little hesitation in shifting money from that Bush priority to their own. Though the program would get $120 million over this year's level, the reduction from Bush's proposal drew criticism from Bono, the rock singer who has lobbied Congress on the issue.

"America's Millennium Challenge should be shouted from the rooftops, not left in a suitcase under the bed getting dusty," he said.

The Senate foreign aid bill would also make it harder for Bush to block funds for international family planning programs, as he has done. Senators have tried that before, however, only to see provisions restored that let Bush kill the spending.

The trade-off between those two programs was but one indication of budget pressures that the Appropriations panel displayed as it approved two other spending bills for the government's new budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

The committee also:

—Approved $145.9 billion for labor, health and education programs, nearly $7 billion over what is being spent this year. The measure includes increases over 2004 expenditures for community health centers, grants to low-income school districts and abstinence education.

—Adopted a $39.8 billion measure financing the Justice, Commerce and State departments, with an overall $240 million increase over Bush's requests.

The bill for labor, health and education underlined how the Senate GOP is finding additional funds, even as Republicans try to control spending at a time of soaring federal deficits.

That measure exceeds budget limits approved by the Senate by $3.6 billion. Most of that extra money was made available by delaying for three days payments due recipients of Supplemental Security Income benefits on Sept. 30, 2005 — a shift that pushes those checks into the 2006 budget year.

While debating that bill, the committee voted 16-13 to block the Bush administration's new rules defining which workers are entitled to overtime pay. Democrats, who were joined by two Republicans, say the regulations will prevent millions of workers from getting the extra pay, an estimate Republicans say is overblown.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Flake (search), R-Ariz., who has led past efforts to lift the ban on travel to Cuba, said he would not force a House vote on the issue this year in the run-up to the presidential election.

"Unfortunately neither party can see past Florida when trying to decide what to do about Cuba," he said.

Flake urged support for a narrower amendment to be offered next week by Rep. Jim Davis (search), D-Fla., to overturn recently imposed restrictions on family travel to Cuba.