Wednesday, July 2, 2008 | 2:05 a.m.
In a welcome display of bipartisan cooperation, a bill to spend $50 billion to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries over the next five years enjoys broad support on Capitol Hill. That is considerably more than the $15 billion spent the previous five years under a program advocated by President Bush, and the increased budget is certainly warranted given the ongoing epidemic, especially in Africa.
The House has already passed a version of the bill, as has the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Bush stands ready to approve the funding. A small group of Republican senators, though, is spoiling the momentum by arguing that the legislation costs too much and includes money for unrelated poverty programs.
By holding up the Senate floor vote, the malcontent lawmakers have likely blown an opportunity for Bush to press for greater global AIDS funding when the leaders of the G-8 industrialized nations meet for a three-day summit in Japan on Monday.
With Senate approval Bush would have been able to negotiate from strength, armed with a generous AIDS package from the United States. But the Senate, which is in recess, does not return to work until the day the summit begins. It is likely that the bill will not clear the Senate floor before the summit ends July 9. That would be a tragedy because world leaders must be convinced that they can do more to fight the insidious disease.
It would have been refreshing if the holdout Republicans had ended their selfish ways so that the world could better combat a disease that has killed more than 30 million Africans since 1982 and has resulted in 11 million orphans.
To his credit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., got leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee last week to forge a sound bipartisan compromise. But we fear that the failure of Congress to approve the legislation in time for the summit because of a few holdouts will be a missed opportunity needlessly resulting in many more AIDS victims.