WASHINGTON - The House resoundingly approved President Bush's plan for a new global campaign against AIDS yesterday, authorizing $15 billion to help fight a rampaging epidemic that has killed or infected tens of millions and threatens political stability in some of the world's poorest countries.
The legislation, which passed 375-41 despite the misgivings of some influential conservatives, breaks new ground for a Republican-led Congress often skeptical of foreign aid.
Its commitment of $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS and two other diseases - tuberculosis and malaria - that often afflict people with AIDS would dwarf the $1.6 billion the United States now spends annually on the international health crisis.
Also significant is the approach the bill embraces to prevent sexual transmission of AIDS: abstinence, fidelity and condoms.
For social conservatives who wield great power in Congress and at the White House, the first two prongs of this approach have long been their primary strategy for stopping acquired immune deficiency syndrome. But the third, which acknowledges the role of premarital and extramarital sex in the spread of the disease, is anathema to many conservatives.
For that reason, a conservative bloc of House Republicans added an amendment to the bill to ensure that AIDS relief groups opposed to condom distribution would qualify for funds. Another successful amendment would set aside a sizable portion of the bill's money for abstinence education.
But those skirmishes were overshadowed by the House's bipartisan resolve to back the initiative Bush announced in his State of the Union address.
Senate leaders said they were equally intent on passing their version of the bill this month.
"The HIV/AIDS pandemic is more than a humanitarian crisis," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the International Relations Committee, referring both to the disease and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes it.
"Increasingly, it's a threat to the security of the developed world," said Hyde, an Illinois Republican. "Left unchecked, this plague will further rip the fabric of developing societies, pushing fragile governments and economies to the brink of collapse."
Under the bill, Congress would authorize $3 billion a year for the global AIDS battle over five years, starting Oct. 1, with the money directed toward countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and other areas severely hit by the disease.
The bill also attempts to secure aid from other countries.
Of the money authorized, the bill recommends spending 55 percent on treatment of people infected with the AIDS virus; 15 percent on palliative care for people with AIDS; 20 percent on preventing the spread of the disease; and 10 percent on helping children of parents who have died or are suffering from AIDS.
Nick Anderson is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.