Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today regarding the ongoing negotiations to reauthorize the PEPFAR program:
“In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush confronted the staggering crisis of AIDS in Africa. That night, the President of the United States said this:
‘We have confronted, and will continue to confront, HIV/AIDS in our own country. And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.
‘This comprehensive plan will prevent millions of new HIV infections, treat millions more people with life-extending drugs, and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS, and for children orphaned by AIDS.’
“It is no secret that President Bush and I disagree far more often than we agree. It is no secret that much of that State of the Union speech – particularly the setup for war with Iraq – has long since been discredited.
“But President Bush’s call to help our suffering neighbors in Africa was an important moment in his presidency. It represents the right kind of foreign policy: using our strength, power and moral authority to spread opportunity and prosperity throughout the earth. The Congress responded promptly to the President’s call to action by creating the program known as PEPFAR.
“Because Democrats and Republicans worked together and reached that common goal, we have had a positive impact on the lives of tens of millions of Africans. That is a tremendous start.
“But the work still ahead is just as daunting as the work completed. As many as 30 million Africans have died from AIDS since 1982. That is more than 4,300 deaths every day and it is now the primary cause of death in all of Africa. Nine southern African countries have infection rates above 10 percent. In Botswana, nearly half of all pregnant women between the ages of 25 and 34 were recently found to be infected. And tragically, AIDS has ravaged the children of Africa with great severity.
“AIDS has created more than 11 million orphans. Many don’t have a home or enough food to eat. And each year, 600,000 children become infected with HIV from their mothers.
“It is difficult to comprehend the gravity of these numbers, but I was able to get some sense during my visit to Africa in 2002. I traveled to South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Botswana. I met with organizations engaged in education, prevention and treatment. These organizations are performing miracles every day. But they are overwhelmed. They were overwhelmed in 2002, and though we have made a measurable difference, the crisis has grown and they are no less overwhelmed today.
“That is why we must renew the commitment that President Bush, Democrats and Republicans in Congress all made together in 2003. It is time to reauthorize the PEPFAR program. The House of Representatives passed the reauthorization bill by an overwhelming bipartisan vote. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee followed suit. President Bush and Senate Democrats strongly support this legislation.
“As is the case with every compromise, the legislation is not perfect but it is a crucial next step. We stand ready to act because we know that AIDS is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. No one owns this problem. It falls to all of us, Americans and all people of the world, to fight and beat it.
“It is confounding and indefensible that a small group of Republican Senators have placed a hold on this legislation, preventing us from moving forward. They should have followed the lead of President Bush, Members of Congress from both parties, and a diverse group of world health organizations and nonprofits. They should have abandoned their obstruction long ago.
“That is why, several months ago, I asked Chairman Biden and Ranking Member Lugar to negotiate a compromise that would end these Republican holds. They have worked tirelessly on this challenge and I thank them for all of their hard work.
“These negotiations are ongoing and we are all hopeful that we will soon have a compromise agreement. Given the importance of this legislation, I have set a deadline of next Tuesday for all parties to reach a final agreement. I want to be clear that I am committed to getting this legislation completed.”