U.S. funding to fight HIV/AIDS continues to be a political football bouncing all over the congressional playing field in spite of President Bush's pledge of $15 billion over five years in his State of Union message, again during his trip to Africa three months ago, and in his address at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly last month.
The fuss seems to be not over whether funding will happen, but whether the first one-fifth, or $3 billion, will be provided the first year. Some members of Congress are arguing for less, which would be in effect to deny the kick-start that Mr. Bush's repeated vaunting of it has promised.
Less than proportionate funding of the first year of a five-year pledge would raise the inevitable question of whether the money would be made up later or whether the program would stay underfunded, making planning difficult.
The need is clear. HIV/AIDS is the most severe problem at the core of the issues of economic development that African nations and other countries face.
HIV/AIDS is a disease, now infecting some 42 million people. It can eventually be conquered through prevention and cure, but it is an evolving, “smart” disease, and tackling it requires means.
Mr. Bush knows the magnitude and nature of the problem and thus dedicated America to the effort to defeat the disease. It is hard to imagine that the Congress, both houses of which are controlled by the Republican Party, doesn't feel obliged to make good on Mr. Bush's promise to the American people, to Africans, and to the world.
This issue requires urgent congressional attention. Funding needs to be at the $3 billion level. If Mr. Bush needs to put his shoulder to the congressional wheel to make it happen, he should do so. Otherwise, his empty promise shames the administration and America in the eyes of the world.