June 28, 2008

PEPFAR, So Good?

So I'm in the whirlpool the other day with Nathaniel Batchelder (we both work out at the OU health club near the capitol), and he starts telling me about this initiative called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the importance of having Congress reauthorize the program for another five years. Now, Nathaniel is a prominent member of Oklahoma's religious and political left, and I'd say we disagree on issues approximately 99 percent of the time. But after doing some reading on PEPFAR, I'm prepared to say Nathaniel might be on to something here.

My main concern is this: The U.S. Constitution doesn't authorize the Congress to spend money on AIDS relief in Africa. Now I realize that "the U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government" (Joe Sobran's quip), but we can't give up on constitutional government altogether. To his great credit, Sen. Tom Coburn has introduced legislation which would require all congressional legislation to "contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act."

What's interesting is that Coburn is a supporter of PEPFAR -- he calls it "America's most significant foreign policy accomplishment since the Marshall Plan" -- so perhaps there is a valid constitutional rationale (national defense?) for the program after all, and not merely a rationale hiding out somewhere in a penumbra or an emanation.

Today in a house editorial ("Coburn of Africa"), The Wall Street Journal calls the good doctor "the hero of the AIDS funding debate" and says PEPFAR's "crowning glory is all those souls saved from certain death with treatment and the millions more who can expect similar help in the years to come."