DeMint stalls AIDS funding bill

Senate leaders skirmished late Monday over an AIDS funding bill, dismissing a stalling tactic by South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint that had briefly paralyzed the chamber.

The impasse, which shut down the chamber for several hours, arose when DeMint tried to push an amendment trimming the program from $50 billion to $35 billion and threatened an agreement made last Friday between the GOP and Democratic leaders to allow votes on 10 GOP amendments.

Although DeMint's amendment was among the 10 that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had agreed to, DeMint attempted a "second-degree amendment" that would have cut off U.S. funds to countries that force women to have abortions.

Reid called DeMint's move "a sucker punch" because it violated Friday's agreement but worked out a second agreement Monday with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that would break the impasse without giving in to DeMint's tactic.

"Unless there's something that I don't understand that comes up, we're going to have all those 10 amendments debated and voted upon," Reid said.

McConnell returned the favor by saying the agreement was "a good way to go forward."

"This consent agreement was rather painfully achieved last week," he said.

Shortly thereafter, DeMint took the floor to say he initially voted for the AIDS program in 2003 and acknowledged it was "a worthy cause."

"But we cannot afford every worthy cause around the world," he said. "This is not generosity. I'm afraid it's thievery."

Reid said he planned to table DeMint's amendment Tuesday morning, which would end up killing it. The squabbling was over the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, a five-year program aimed at providing anti-retroviral medication to those infected with the disease, largely in Third World countries. The program is a top priority of President Bush.

- J. Taylor Rushing and Manu Raju