AIDS, Foreign Assistance Big Budget Winners

Article excerpt

Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

AIDS prevention and overseas assistance would get major increases under President Bush's budget, which calls for a big boost in foreign aid programs even as U.S. farmers, veterans and train riders face cutbacks.

The State Department and U.S. foreign assistance and diplomacy programs proved to be unexpected winners in the fiscal 2006 federal budget released by Mr. Bush on Monday.

Private aid groups that had been critical of the administration's policies found little to criticize in a budget that would increase foreign aid spending by nearly 16 percent, to $22.8 billion.

Although the administration wants to eliminate or sharply reduce about 150 programs in the federal government in a bid to cut the deficit, none of the programs comes under the $33.6 billion international affairs budget.

State Department officials said the spending boost at a time of general belt-tightening reflected Mr. Bush's focus on winning the global war on terrorism through aid, diplomacy and the promotion of democracy abroad, the theme of his inaugural address last month.

"This is a budget and a department that is focusing on transformational democracy around the world," a senior State Department official said.

Two of the biggest increases come in two of Mr. Bush's foreign policy priorities: the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) and HIV/AIDS prevention.

The MCC is designed as a fundamental overhaul of U.S. foreign economic aid, directing funds to low-income countries that have embraced strong market-oriented reforms and institutions. Mr. Bush asked Congress for $3 billion for the MCC for the fiscal year beginning in October, double the current funding. …