Bush to Trim Size Of Fund Request For AIDS Fight

WASHINGTON -- President Bush plans to ask Congress for relatively small funding increases to fight AIDS and poverty in the developing world, stepping back from his highly publicized pledge to spend huge sums to help fight them.

With the federal budget stretched to pay for the war in Iraq, tax cuts and homeland security projects, the White House has warned Cabinet departments that the president's fiscal 2005 budget proposal will include $2.5 billion in new money for his Millennium Challenge Account -- an initiative to reward well-run nations in Africa and elsewhere -- and $1.1 billion in increased spending for international AIDS projects, according to people familiar with the president's proposals.

Combined with appropriations still awaiting final congressional action for fiscal 2004, those amounts represent just 18% of the $30 billion in spending increases that the administration has promised would take place by 2008. Should Congress fund Mr. Bush's request, it would effectively put off the vast majority of the promised spending until after next year's presidential election.

"They aren't quite willing to put the money out there to match the rhetoric of the president's speech," said Steve Radelet, formerly the top Africa hand in both the Clinton and Bush Treasury departments.

Mr. Bush has made the aid account and the AIDS initiative the core of his policy toward Africa and the rest of the developing world. He announced the aid proposal before a big international meeting in Mexico last year, and the AIDS plan in his State of the Union address in January, presenting a softer side of the administration at a time when the world was focused on his policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The proposals went far beyond anything advocated by the Clinton administration.

"Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many," Mr. Bush said in the State of the Union address. The money, he said, was to "turn the tide in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean."

When the president announced the Millennium Challenge Account, the administration said it would involve $5 billion in new spending between fiscal 2004 and 2005, and $5 billion a year after that -- a total of $20 billion through fiscal 2008. Instead, Congress looks set to approve $1 billion for 2004, and the White House is proposing $2.5 billion for the following year, leaving the remaining $16.5 billion for later.

"They're obviously way behind on that," said Mr. Radelet, now a fellow at the Center for Global Development, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.