Only 16 Senators, all conservative Republicans, voted against the massive $50 billion global AIDS spending bill (S. 2731) when it came up for a final vote on Wednesday night. The outcome, which included the addition of water projects for Indian reservations, demonstrated the complicity of both major political parties in out-of-control spending designed to benefit a powerful special interest group.
The final vote was 80-16 with Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, both original sponsors of the bill, on the campaign trail and not available to cast a vote on the Senate floor.
Dr. Paul Zeitz of the Global AIDS Alliance thanked Democratic Senators Joe Biden and Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Senator Richard Lugar for their “tremendous achievement” and their “fierce determination to bring the bill forward…” Zeitz insisted that the money would “save millions of lives and foster good will around the world.”
However, the $200 billion already spent by U.S. taxpayers on HIV/AIDS here and around the world has not resulted in any cures or a vaccine, and anti-AIDS drugs are coming under increased scrutiny for their ineffectiveness and side-effects.
On final passage, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky voted with Majority Leader Reid and the Democrats.
In addition to spending $50 billion at a time of growing economic difficulties in the U.S., the bill lifts the ban on entry into the U.S. of AIDS-infected aliens, who could end up adding to the costs of the health care system.
Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that providing federal disability, health and nutrition benefits to aliens with HIV/AIDS and their children could cost the government $83 million over a 10-year period.
The 16 “nay” votes were cast by Allard (R-CO), Barrasso (R-WY), Bunning (R-KY), Cornyn (R-TX), Craig (R-ID), Crapo (R-ID), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Graham (R-SC), Gregg (R-NH), Hutchison (R-TX), Inhofe (R-OK), Kyl (R-AZ), Sessions (R-AL), Vitter (R-LA), and Wicker (R-MS).
In an earlier vote, 31 Senators voted to cut the amount of spending in the bill from $50 billion to $35 billion. In this vote, two Democrats―Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Ben Nelson of Nebraska―voted with 29 Republicans.
One “conservative” Republican senator, John Thune of South Dakota, boasted about how he managed to obtain $2 billion in the bill for “tribal needs” such as water projects and “public safety” on Indian reservations.
But the original purpose of the bill was supposed to be about helping victims of HIV/AIDS.
Any notion of this being a partisan matter was completely shattered by the Bush Administration’s active lobbying for the bill. In this legislative showdown, the Republican White House collaborated with liberal Senate Democrats and actively opposed the efforts of conservative Republican senators such as Jim DeMint, David Vitter and Jeff Sessions to reduce the size and scope of the bill. Originally, the White House had only requested $15 billion for the program.
The Senate bill now has to be resolved with the House version.
Among those speaking out against the “reckless” overspending in the bill was Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who declared, “When so many Americans are facing economics problems at home, I have a hard time needlessly tripling the funding for this program.”
Bunning also declared, “We need to ensure that these funds reach the neediest countries and not those that can afford their own space and nuclear programs, such as China and Russia. At a time when China is tripling their defense budget and manipulating their currency, I have a hard time sending billions of dollars over there…”
Yet, Senator DeMint’s amendment to limit the countries in which the AIDS money could be spent was defeated 70-24.
Meanwhile, on the House side, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a release calling the bill a “mission of true mercy.”