Mitt Romney refused to commit to funding to the U.S. Global AIDS initiative during a town hall in New Hampshire on Monday and suggested that HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment may take a back seat to his goal of reducing deficit spending. Romney was asked about his approach three separate times during the event, but seemed unaware of the issue and stopped short of laying out a comprehensive approach:
ROMNEY: I will commit to look at that issue, but I’m not going to tell you exactly how we’re going to spend money on a federal level, budget by budget item. [...]
The answer is, I’m not going to commit to its funding level at that level, because I haven’t evaluated in the context of the entire budget and what our priorities would be, but I can say this, which is, at a time when we are borrowing money to pay for things…I’m very reluctant to borrow lots more money to be able to do wonderful things, if those things can be done by people making charitable contributions or if other countries that are wealthy…
President George W. Bush established the U.S. Global AIDS initiative — and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which represents the largest component of the initiative — in 2003, in an effort to connect the poorer people of the world with HIV/AIDS treatment. From 2003 to 2008, Congress committed $18.8 billion to PEPFAR, exceeding the original $15 billion first pledged, and appropriated another $48 billion over a five-year period. President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget included almost $7 billion for PEPFAR, representing a 1.8 percent increase on the previous year. The program is supporting treatment for millions of people around the world and has averted “240,000 infant infections” in its first five years.
At the town hall, Romney tried to obscure his unfamiliarity with the issue by claiming that he isn’t prepared to set budget goals for any of his initiatives. But Romney is more than happy to set targets for defense spending, which he has pledged to increase from “about 3.8 percent of the GDP” to “about 4 percent” if elected president.