- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2001

The House yesterday approved President Bush's plan to fundamentally change government aid for the needy by expanding the role of religious groups in delivering social services.
The vote for the Community Solutions Act was 233-198, with 15 Democrats joining all but four Republicans in favor of the faith-based plan.
"This bill is not about church, it is not about state," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republicans and co-sponsor of the bill. "It is about serving the poor and the needy."
"God bless America, we have started in the right direction," said Rep. Ronnie Shows, Mississippi Democrat, who voted for the proposal.
But the next step is the Senate, where passage is much less certain. Key Democrats, such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, are concerned about blurring the line between church and state.
"I think we can build on the momentum," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and sponsor of the Senate bill that lacks the core charitable-choice provision.
In approving the bill, House Republican leaders overcame furious last-minute opposition from homosexual-rights groups and their allies, who argued the measure would allow religious charities to discriminate against homosexuals in employment.
"I don't think we should expand government support for these institutions at the expense of fundamental civil rights and anti-discrimination protections," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.
But Republicans said the bill simply preserves current civil rights law that allows churches and synagogues to hire people who share their religious principles.
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, blunted some opposition from Democrats and liberal Republicans, which had delayed the vote for a day, by promising to work in a House-Senate conference committee to ensure that churches observe local and state civil rights laws.
And many lawmakers said they were motivated to approve the bill for Mr. Bush, who made a personal appeal to House Republicans last week and often talks about how his faith helped him quit drinking alcohol in 1986.
The bill would expand the opportunities for religious organizations to compete for government grants to provide services such as food banks, drug treatment and counseling. It would also create about $13 billion in new tax deductions to encourage charitable giving.
"For too long and too often, government has looked at [religious] organizations as rivals, someone to be pushed away," said Rep. Mark Green, Wisconsin Republican. "We've taken the first step to making them partners, partners in this great battle that we all face."
Some conservatives, too, are concerned about injecting government oversight into church record keeping. And religious groups worry about the potential of becoming reliant on government funding.
The president was hoping for a solidly bipartisan vote. But Rep. Tony P. Hall, Ohio Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, acknowledged that many Democrats opposed the measure for purely political reasons.
"There was a lot of partisan voting going on here," Mr. Hall said.
Democrats focused their opposition less on church-state questions and more on civil rights issues. The lobbying by homosexual-rights groups against the bill was so intense that Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, voted against it only days after meeting with Mr. Bush and indicating his support.
A Republican leadership source said homosexual-rights groups had threatened Mr. Davis with cutting off campaign donations for members of the black caucus. Mr. Davis told The Washington Times in an interview that he was lobbied by homosexual-rights advocates this week, but denied receiving any such threat.
"I think that's kind of far-fetched," Mr. Davis said, adding his opposition "had nothing to do with any groups."
He said he voted against the bill because "it is regrettably silent on the question of sexual orientation."
As the floor debate reached a crescendo yesterday, Democrats insisted the bill would erode civil rights laws.
"Today is a referendum on discrimination," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Texas Democrat.
But House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said the bill would begin to reverse a half-century of whitewashing religion from public institutions.
"Look what happened over the last 40 or 50 years to the fabric of the culture of this country," Mr. DeLay said. "Part of rebuilding that culture is faith. Now we have a president who says 'Faith is important. What you believe is what you are.'"
Democrats ridiculed the tax deductions as minuscule, while arguing at the same time that government coffers cannot afford more tax breaks.
That prompted House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, to comment that dinosaurs on average were filled with "2,000 pounds of fecal material" and House Democrats were rivaling the prehistoric monsters.
"When I think about that 2,000 pounds, I just wonder what 'Democratosaurus' could produce," Mr. Thomas said. "It certainly is a really big pile."
Mr. Santorum said he is working with a group of five Democratic senators on a companion bill and he cautioned against pronouncing the measure dead in the Senate.
"I lost count of the number of articles written about how the president's faith-based proposal was dead on Capitol Hill," Mr. Santorum said.
"So we have seen one element of faith, the resurrection of the president's faith-based proposal."

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