This week, President Bush is visiting Japan for the annual G8 summit – a gathering of the heads of state of the world’s most powerful and influential nations.
If we are to base our predictions on past precedent, the leaders will make commitments to double aid to Africa and champion efforts against global warming. But soon enough, the rhetoric of their promises and commitments will disperse like a lot of hot air.
Yet this time, President Bush has said that he will rally the team to “make commitments and meet commitments.” The question is: “How loudly will he be heard?”
Key legislation moving through Congress would give the president a more authoritative voice and a higher platform from which to rally that Group of Eight support. This legislation would reauthorize and expand the global AIDS program launched by the White House in 2003.
The president’s program – known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – has provided AIDS treatment for 1.4 million people. It is responsible for a phenomenon that has come to be known as the “Lazarus effect,” almost literally bringing people back to life.
PEPFAR has supported more than 2.7 million children orphaned by AIDS. In Africa, it has been our country’s No. 1 ambassador, building a reputation for American generosity, one orphan, one clinic and one village at a time.
Sadly, this legislation has been stalled by three of his Republican colleagues in the Senate, including Arizonan Jon Kyl.
There is bipartisan support, including support from the White House, to reauthorize PEPFAR and expand its reach to develop better medical tools, build better health systems and treat malaria and tuberculosis.
Yet despite the program’s widespread support and irrefutable success, Kyl and a handful of Republicans think the price tag of $50 billion over five years is too high.
It would be one thing for legislators thing to balk at expanding a program that had not delivered its intended results, but quite another to stop one that works.
PEPFAR works. PEPFAR has been a model of humanitarian assistance for all the world to see. Some call it the greatest triumph of American foreign policy since the Marshall plan.
In these contentious legislative times, the PEPFAR debate in Washington has been an exercise in compromise, with lawmakers putting humanity above partisanship.
Both parties in Congress and the White House have put aside differences over how the money ought to be spent because they place the value and potential of this program above partisan gain.
But as long as a group of recalcitrant senators continue to block this bill, they take away an opportunity for the United States to exercise global leadership and save countless lives.
Time is running out. Sen. Kyl must see reason and clear the way for PEPFAR’s reauthorization to give the president more credible talking points in Japan.
Ron Pollack is the executive director of Families USA (www.familiesusa.org), the national organization for health care consumers. Families USA includes global health among its important advocacy issues.