Sen. Frist discusses HIV/AIDS bill debated in House

By Julie Fann
star staff

Sen. Bill Frist, in a teleconference on Wednesday, said he hopes a proposed supplemental spending bill that would set aside 500 million dollars to fight HIV/AIDS will be approved by the House this week and move to the Senate floor. Frist co-sponsored the bill two years ago with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina.
   "AIDS kills one person every 10 seconds. This issue must be addressed by this Congress now. It is a plague of biblical proportions that leaves a wake of devastation at every level," he said. Frist said he is optimistic about the progress the bill has made over the past two years; however, he emphasized that it will be difficult to convince Congress to make it a priority now and in a way that demands accountability.
   Frist stressed the seriousness of the epidemic in South Africa, a country that has lost 17 million people to the AIDS virus and that is predicted to lose 25 million more. "Where people are wiped out in such large proportions by a single virus, the potential for terrorist acts to spring out of that devastation is seriously multiplied. The leaders of that country need to be taught that the disease stems from a virus, so that the trend can be reversed," he said.
   Frist said he is supportive of the lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee this week challenging the Feingold-McCain legislation President Bush recently signed into law. Frist himself voted against the campaign finance reform legislation. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, challenges a ban on unlimited contributions known as "soft money" that national Republican and Democratic party committees can now collect from businesses, unions and others, and members of Congress and the president can help raise.
   "I don't know how the lawsuit will go. There are so many different parts of that legislation. I think the freedom of speech argument is pretty clear; that the legislation violates that," he said.
   Frist also addressed the continued delay in federal judiciary appointments, pointing to the fact that President Bush has done his part by nominating 100 people to the federal bench. Ten percent of federal judiciary seats remain vacant across the country and 44 percent are vacant in Tennessee. "There are things such as the fact that, in the Sixth Circuit, you have to wait more than a year and a half to get a court date," he said.
   Concerning a farm bill up for consideration in the House, Frist said although the bill addresses support for increased conservation, it has an excessive price tag, spending over 8 billion dollars. He said he doesn't know how the bill will affect tobacco farmers, but he hopes Congress will act responsibly to meet the needs of agriculture.
   Frist said lawmakers are also working on bioterrorism legislation and "the sooner the better." He said every day something is written or talked about in terms of the country's vulnerability. "Although Senate legislation is not the final answer, it does provide a framework," he said.