WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats are cutting President Bush's marquee foreign aid program to funnel more money to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa and elsewhere.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is slated Thursday to cut Bush' $3 billion request for the Millennium Challenge Corporation to $1.4 billion. The program channels foreign aid to countries implementing economic and political reforms but has been slow to disburse prior appropriations.
The Senate panel is boosting Bush's $4.2 billion request for the foreign aid bill's Global HIV/AIDS account by $900 million, including adding $550 million to the administration's request for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- enough to almost triple it.
Altogether, however, the Senate panel would cut Bush's request for foreign aid and the State Department budget by almost $900 million, transferring money to domestic accounts favored on Capitol Hill.
But the Senate foreign aid bill, like its House counterpart, faces a veto since it would ease restrictions on overseas groups that perform or promote abortion by allowing them to receive U.S.-donated contraceptives. A ban on direct monetary aid would remain in place.
The Senate panel also faces a battle over whether to loosen restrictions on local law enforcement agencies' ability to gain access to gun-purchasing data to trace the movement of illegal guns around the nation.
Such restrictions have been in place for almost four years as part of a separate spending bill funding the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, drawing fire from gun control groups, who say they hamper law enforcement authorities' ability to trace illegal guns and arrest weapons traffickers.
Gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association say the data-sharing restrictions protect gun owners' privacy
The $54.6 billion Justice Department funding bill also fully finances NASA's budget, as well as Bush's "competitiveness initiative" boosting basic research and improving training and recruitment of math and science teachers. It contains budget hikes totaling $3.8 billion above Bush's February budget.
That's more than 7 percent and is sure to also attract a veto threat.
Meanwhile, the House continued to wade through a $21.4 billion bill funding the Treasury Department and White House budgets, as well as numerous agencies. The low-profile bill is one of the few measures not facing a veto threat over its price tag.
But the bill still faces a veto since Democrats lifted restrictions barring the use of U.S. funds to implement the District of Columbia's domestic partnership law. The District government uses locally raised money to implement the law, so the outcome of a floor battle over keeping the current restriction in place won't have much of an impact.