DeMint, Burr block AIDS program

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., on Wednesday spearheaded opposition to a $50 billion expansion of President Bush's signature program to combat AIDS in Africa and elsewhere overseas.

DeMint, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and five other Republican senators blocked Senate consideration of a bill that would more than triple U.S. aid to nations most stricken by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and to international relief groups helping them.

“For us to attempt to buy friendship around the world by spending $50 billion is just completely irresponsible,” DeMint said. “There are enough worthy causes around the world to bankrupt us a hundred times over.”

Hundreds of AIDS activists planned to come to Washington on Friday and deliver funeral wreaths to DeMint and the other six GOP senators opposing the legislation to reauthorize the AIDS program for five years.

“Global health programs, particularly for AIDS, are the best ambassadors for the United States because they showcase America's leadership on things that matter to people on a personal level,” said David Bryden, communications director of the Global Aids Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Bush would like Congress to pass what he calls the “President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” before he leaves for the Group of Eight summit early next month.

“While we would like to have it passed tomorrow, I don't think we're putting a deadline on it in terms of the G-8,” White House spokesman Dana Perino said Wednesday. The U.S. anti-AIDS program, a $15 billion initiative Bush launched to great fanfare in 2003, has saved 2 million lives, mainly in Africa, supporters say.

Bush earlier this year proposed doubling the program to $30 billion over the next five years. Congressional leaders from both parties increased funding to $50 billion, with most of the added money targeting tuberculosis and malaria abroad.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, their parties' presumptive presidential nominees, back the expansion.

A broad range of religious, health and charitable leaders support the legislation, from Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa to Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.

DeMint, a Greenville Republican, accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of blocking amendments he and his allies were pushing to cut the program's cost and limit how the money could be used.