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Bono: Congress has 'really done something to be proud of'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bono, the lead singer for the Irish rock quartet U2, has never shied away from political messages in his music. In recent years, he has stepped onto a different stage, becoming an activist on such issues as trade, global debt and the spread of AIDS.

The U.S. Congress has appropriated more than $2 billion for AIDS prevention abroad. While in Washington for a meeting at the Kaiser Foundation, Bono spoke to CNN anchor Judy Woodruff.

BONO: It's an extraordinary year for Congress. They've really done something to be proud of. Potentially, this money this year will double the aid to Africa, say, which is the concern that I'm concerned about. That's an extraordinary thing. The biggest increase in 40 years.

And yet, all the goodwill will be squandered if Congress doesn't come back because in two months, I mean, not to be melodramatic -- but actually, why not? -- 500,000 people will die. I think it's 2.4 million people die every year in Africa. So two months, hanging around, pulling Christmas crackers, this is not the year to do it.

WOODRUFF: The administration originally was talking $3 billion. And they said, we've looked at it, we can't spend that money efficiently. They came back with $2 billion. Congress has upped it to $2.4 billion. But the argument is, we can't spend more money now because it won't be used in a smart way.

BONO: The idea that Africans can't spend the money is preposterous.

But to be fair to Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, and others, they were talking about specifically 10 countries targeted with this new AIDS initiative. And actually, in the case of those 10 countries, they're right.

Our argument was, you know, why is it just 10, and what about the Global Health Fund? Surely you could best spend some money in there. We were wrangling.

All in all, I have to say the administration has been very honest in their relationship with us. And we did fight over that billion dollars. There's been a compromise. We've had $400 million from Congress. And we'll take it.

WOODRUFF: What have you said to them? When the president and others have looked at you and said, We just don't think some of these countries know how to handle this money. Countries that don't have their political act together, their economic act together.

BONO: OK. You have to build capacity. And remember, this is the president who inspired not just people who are involved in this, these issues, but his critics around the world.

His last State of the Union speech, when he said, 'We will get the drugs to people on motorcycles, on bicycles.' Now, that's the kind of American president I want to hear from, one that bangs his hand on the table and says, Let's get this done.

WOODRUFF: But you're not getting the answer you want on this point.

BONO: Well, look, as I say, we've got a lot of new money. One billion for Africa. You know, it's a lot, new money. It's real money. You have to give credit where credit's due.

But it's like you've got a burning building. This is the first fire truck that's arrived on the scene. And I'm really glad. It's about time we had a fire truck because it's getting out of control, this fire.

But you know what? If Congress doesn't come back, that fire truck doesn't have any water in the hoses. And the truth of it is, we need a fire brigade.

And next year there's going to have to be more money. We're really going to need this because the problem -- AIDS -- the AIDS emergency, it's kind of like a cancer, if I could use that analogy. The problem metastasizes. It goes exponentially in every direction. So it's a lot more expensive the longer you leave it.

WOODRUFF: Few other quick things. You mentioned the elections this year in this briefing.

BONO: Right.

WOODRUFF: Every one of the Democratic candidates for president is talking about doubling the money that the Bush administration is doing. They're talking about reaching out to orphaned children, orphaned by AIDS. Why wouldn't any one of them be better to work with on this issue?

BONO: That's great. You know, we'll work with whomever we have to work with. And we want -- you know, I have been drained of all political color. You know what I mean? I just want to work with the guy who writes the biggest check.

And as it happens, that's President Bush. And he's been true to his word. But, you know, writing it, then cashing it, that's the other bit.

WOODRUFF: Last thing -- you have been at this now for quite some time. You have given so much energy and effort. You've toured Africa. You've been back to Africa. You were there with Paul O'Neill. How much harder is all this than you thought it was going to be?

BONO: It's very hard. It's overwhelming to see somebody like I just met this -- you know, this woman who's telling me her sister died yesterday. She's a South African AIDS nurse.

And she says, If I had the choice of who to give the drugs, I wouldn't have given them to my sister, I would have given it to the AIDS workers. They're the fire workers running up the building. That's an inhumane choice. That makes the job harder.

I tell you what makes it easier. The United States has a Congress that it should be proud of this year. And on both sides people have worked to make this happen.

This is not an issue to play politics with. I know I'm on "Inside Politics," and I wouldn't want to be talking to anyone else right now, but that is our one thing, don't play politics. There's too many people's lives at stake.


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