Frist-sponsored global AIDS bill endorsed by Bush

By Julie Fann
star staff
jfann@starhq.com

  
In the White House rose garden Wednesday, President Bush endorsed a global AIDS bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., earmarking $500 million to go toward the fight against the deadly virus. The bill has as its main focus an effort to prevent the spread of the virus from mother to child, primarily in South Africa.
   "Inexpensively, I think we can cut 30 to 50 percent of the virus that is spread from mother to child. This scourge has attacked innocent victims, none more vulnerable than babies who, at birth, have not been exposed to anything but their mother," Frist said during a teleconference Thursday.
   The initiative will be run principally within the Department of Health and Human Services through the State Department and the CDC (Center for Disease Control). Frist emphasized the bill is not a substitute bill but a new initiative that is discreet and measurable.
   "If you can demonstrate to the American taxpayer that this money is spent to save lives, you can capture the humanitarian instinct that exists within all people. This is only the first five yards of a 100-yard run in tackling this devastating trend," Frist said.
   Sens. Frist and Jesse Helms, R-N.C., co-sponsored the bill two years ago. As the bill progressed from the House to the Senate, 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.
   Medicare reform is another important issue on the Frist agenda. Frist hopes to make prescription drugs more readily available to senior citizens and recently introduced a proposal to Congress. "We really need a stable, modern Medicare system, but that will have to take place over time. We can do something now, though, to address this particular issue. I am hopeful it will pass this year," he said.
   Frist said he believes the current national Senate races, particularly in South Dakota, Missouri, New Hampshire and Arkansas, are very competitive and said it is his mission as chairman of the Republican Senate Committee to increase competition so that Republicans can regain the majority.
   Frist doesn't believe Tennessee's race is that competitive, though, due to the fact that Ed Bryant and Bob Clement aren't very well known statewide. "Tennessee is, though, a more conservative state than it was 10 years ago, and the Republican Party is much more inclusive than it once was," he said.