- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

President Bushs faith-based initiative stalled in the House yesterday amid legal questions and lack of bipartisan support, jeopardizing hopes for the targeted Fourth of July passage.
Republicans say they want to ensure the legislation is "constitutionally airtight" but are also concerned about questionable provisions that could push final passage into autumn.
The House Ways and Means Committee yesterday postponed passage "until further notice" and Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. is bucking White House pressure for fast action.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney last week called Mr. Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, and asked for prompt action on the bill.
"I told him there were legal problems involved and I didnt think the administration had done its homework in broadening its base so that it had broad bipartisan support," Mr. Sensenbrenner told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"Its basically up to the administration to get it together if they want it passed," Mr. Sensenbrenner said.
As written, the bill opens up the possibility of lawsuits against cities and states that contract with the religious organization for services. In theory, this could permit an atheist to sue if rejected for a job by the Catholic Church, Mr. Sensenbrenner said.
Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the party conference, dismissed the delay as "inside-the-Beltway politics."
Mr. Watts said he is "cautiously optimistic" they will proceed with the bill next week, "but its more likely it will happen in the fall than the Fourth of July."
"Theyre just [sending] it back and forth making sure everything is constitutionally sound," Mr. Watts said.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said he hopes the bill will pass next week, but most Republicans are skeptical it will move before the holiday recess begins June 29.
Jeff Lungren, Judiciary Committee spokesman, said "theoretically" the bill could pass early next week, but that his panel has not scheduled a meeting.
"We just want to make sure we get the broadest amount of support on this," Mr. Lungren said.
Mr. Watts said the Judiciary Committee members are "kidding themselves" by holding out for more Democratic support.
"The Judiciary Committee is stacked, you cant be any farther apart on ideology than the Democrats and Republicans on that committee," Mr. Watts said.
But with Democrats in control of the Senate, House Republicans say endorsements from Democrats is essential. The only Democrat publicly supporting the bill is Rep. Tony P. Hall of Ohio.
"Republicans plus one Tony Hall doesnt help our prospects in the Senate," said one House leadership aide.
"This is a priority for the White House and leadership. No one benefits from rushing in and turning this into a partisan bloodbath. We will work to find agreements where we can," the aide said.
Mr. Watts said he is open to negotiations on technical aspects of the bill, "but Im not going to compromise on principles in the bill."
A few additional Democrats are expected to come on board, but Mr. Watts, the bills sponsor, said there will not be a flood of support.
"Im not naive enough to think we will get 80 Democrats on this bill. Their coalition will not allow them to support it," Mr. Watts said.
Asked to describe Democratic support, Mr. Watts said, "very little warmth, more lukewarm than warm."
There is also concern that the bill contains unfunded mandates on states, possible loosening of child safety measures, and poses problems on the matter of employment discrimination, said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"These are not exactly issues Republicans want to wade into," Mr. Lynn said.
For example, the bill requires that a state or city provide a secular alternative when it contracts a service out to a religious group. But the bill provides no money for those secular alternatives.
Mr. Lynn is the most outspoken opponent of the bill, which allows religious groups to compete for federal grants and provide services to the poor. However, he serves on a bipartisan working group that is advancing the legislation.
The bipartisan working group created by Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, is led by former Sen. Harris Wofford, Pennsylvania Democrat, to find common ground on the issues.

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