Magic to Bush: AIDS Funding Good, Delay Bad

Former Lakers Star Criticizes President's Inactivity, Urges Federal Spending Increases

"[President Bush] needs to do a lot. He hasn't done a lot. He's said that himself, that he hasn't been involved."--Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson prodded President Bush on Tuesday to "get more involved" and spend more money in the fight against AIDS. Bush pledged to "do the utmost possible" on AIDS research.

Johnson, the former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star who retired after contracting the AIDS-causing virus, compared the war on the deadly disease to a championship game that needs "a full court press."

He told Bush in a letter, "No matter how good the team may be, it won't win the championship without the owner fully in the game. I don't feel you've been there up until now."

Johnson said he personally feels healthy, runs four miles daily and plans to compete this summer on the U.S. Olympic basketball team.


He gave Bush his letter in the Oval Office following Johnson's first meeting as a member of the National Commission on AIDS. Bush appointed him to the commission after Johnson was diagnosed with the virus.

Johnson told a news conference earlier, "He needs to do a lot. He hasn't done a lot. He's said that himself, that he hasn't been involved. He's going to have to allocate more money and get more involved."

The former basketball star's letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, urged federal spending increases in the next two years, including: $900 million for National Institutes of Health research, $900 million to fully fund treatment programs under congressional legislation named for child AIDS victim Ryan White, and $500 million for Medicaid payments for care of those infected with the HIV virus.

"This early intervention would save millions of lives and billions of dollars," Johnson said of the proposal to allow Medicaid to pay for HIV victims in addition to those with full-fledged AIDS.

Outside the White House, Johnson said of Bush, "Everybody wants him to speak out more, and he needs to. He's the most powerful man in the world. If he speaks out and says that it's out here and he cares ... then people will listen."

After their meeting, Bush said that Johnson had some "good constructive suggestions. We'll try to work on them."

In a photo session before their meeting, Bush struck a defensive posture, saying the government already is spending $4.25 billion to fight AIDS. However, he said he is consulting with the National Institutes of Health on whether more research money is needed.

"We will do the utmost possible," Bush said. "We will try to get the maximum research funding level possible. If there's some place where you can put a little more money to get this problem solved, of course we want to be sensitive."

Heading into their meeting, Bush praised Johnson's "enormous contribution" to AIDS education.

Johnson said at the AIDS commission meeting, "I want to do more. I want to help the poor, I want to help everybody, but I've got to get educated to do that."

"Let me find out what the gays need, the blacks, the Hispanics. When I'm ready, I'll take the fight ... but I can't go into the battle unless I know who the enemies are."

Dr. James Curran, director of the division of AIDS at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, told the commission that 206,000 AIDS cases have been reported nation-wide through 1991.

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