Backers of a proposal to spend billions of dollars over the next 5 years to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and other regions (including Haiti) had assailed Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in recent weeks, accusing the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee of refusing to negotiate with Democrats.
But the package sailed out of the committee Wednesday, prompting plaudits from President Bush, who singled out Ros-Lehtinen (not without mangling the pronounciation of her last name) and acting committee chair Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif. at a press conference today.
"I want to thank acting chairman Howard Berman and ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and all the members of the committee for the action they took," Bush said, noting that the committee was to visit with him today at the White House. (Where Ros-Lehtinen said she planned to hand the president a letter from Miami-Dade commissioner Jose Pepe Diaz looking for federal $$$ for Miami International Airport.)
The AIDS program is considered one of the most successful and popular foreign policy initiatives of the Bush administration and Bush was eager to see it extended.
Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, who had criticized Ros-Lehtinen in a conference call with reporters earlier this week, saying her version of the bill "strips out provisions that are critical to women" and "was not willing to negotiate with the majority," praised the bill's success.
"With bi-partisan support, Congress is beginning to fix aspects of the AIDS program that were clearly not working," Zeitz said.
He noted the new legislation removes a controversial requirement that one-third of all HIV prevention funding be spent on absitence and fidelity programs. Instead, the bill supports promoting the behaviors- but doesn't require fixed funding.
Ros-Lehtinen earlier this week rejected suggestions that she was blocking a compromise and Wednesday did a victory dance after the bill's passage.