Senate ends standoff on AIDS funds

From the Associated Press

Northeast lawmakers dropped their opposition Tuesday to renewal of the biggest federal AIDS funding program, ending a months-long standoff that pitted urban against rural areas.

The agreement by Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and fellow New York and New Jersey lawmakers came in the final days of the GOP-controlled Congress. They signed off on a pact that will soften cuts to their states but still free up more money for rural states and the South.

California gets $260 million a year under the legislation, and California lawmakers had urged passage of the compromise.

"Many states, including our own, will pay a significant price if the Senate adjourns without reauthorizing the Ryan White CARE Act," California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer wrote in a letter to Senate leaders.

The five-year renewal of the $2.1-billion-annual law had sparked a funding fight between cities where the disease first made its mark and the rural communities where it is now spreading fastest. The agreement was expected to be approved by the Senate this week before going back to the House for final passage, and then to President Bush for his signature.

"We stood our ground, and they gave ground, and we came up with a compromise that we can live with," Clinton said.

Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, Senate Health Committee chairman, said the deal came after "months at the negotiating table trying to find an agreement that will ensure that Americans have access to lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatments regardless of their race, gender or where they live."

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