- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

President Bush yesterday helped a religious charity build a house for a poor family in Texas and criticized Congress for balking at the legalities of his plan to allow faith-based groups to help administer social services.
"There's great debate in Washington about the process, the legalities of the initiative," Mr. Bush said at a construction site in the Brook Oaks neighborhood of Waco. "What my administration talks about is the results of the initiative."
"If a faith-based program helps a family find a home, then we ought to welcome it and nourish it," he said in the stifling heat. "If a faith-based initiative helps someone kick drugs or alcohol, we ought to welcome that initiative."
Sporting a Band-Aid on a finger that bled when it was pinched between two boards, Mr. Bush pined for the days when he was governor of Texas and enjoyed a close working relationship with Democrats in the state Legislature. For the second day in a row, the president expressed his preference for Texas Democrats over their counterparts in Washington.
"Dealing with the United States Congress is an interesting experience, compared to dealing with our Legislature," Mr. Bush lamented. "It seems like people there want to harden their positions pretty quickly because they're, a lot of times, more interested in politics than they are in good policy."
"I want to assure you all I'm working hard to change that attitude," he said. "I'm trying to erode the old bias, the old prejudice of putting politics ahead of what's right for America. I think we're making good progress."
But he added wistfully: "I do miss the days when Democrat and Republican could sit down together here in Texas and work things out."
The president made clear that he prefers the values of his beloved Texas to the political partisanship of Washington.
"I've told the people of the nation's capital there that I was coming back to the heartland to herald the values of the heartland, the values that make America so different and so unique," said Mr. Bush, sporting blue jeans, a red cap and a white construction apron. "And one of those values is neighbors helping neighbors."
To that end, Mr. Bush vowed to press ahead with his faith-based initiative, which is stalled in Congress.
"As far as I'm concerned, the federal government will be a welcoming agency, will put money up to allow faith-based programs to compete, side-by-side, with secular programs, all aimed at making sure America is the greatest country possible for every single citizen," the president said.
White House aides pointed out that yesterday's home construction was organized by Habitat for Humanity, a religious charity championed by former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat. While Mr. Bush was swinging a hammer in Texas, Mr. Carter was doing the same in South Korea as part of an international event involving leaders in 25 countries.
But Mr. Bush held up the United States as superior to other nations when it comes to religious freedom, which he said should allow churches to compete for federal funds.
"I've had the honor of traveling the world for our country; I went to Europe," the president said. "And we're different, in a positive way; we're unique, in an incredibly positive way."
"It's important for our nation to never lose sight of that," he added. "And for those who worship in houses of faith, regardless of their religion, whether it be Christian or Muslim or Jewish, and you want to help a neighbor in need and you want to access grant money — as far as I'm concerned, please come on."
The president's comments were echoed by the Rev. Joe Carbajal of Windy Hills Interdenominational Church in Waco, who said a prayer at the construction site. "I want to thank you, Lord, for a president that will stand up and declare biblical principles on a daily basis," he said.
Although congressional Democrats say the president's plan would violate the constitutional separation of church and state, Mr. Bush has argued that private, religious organizations should be allowed to work side-by-side with public, secular groups.
"The great strength of America is not in our governments," Mr. Bush said. "The great strength of America is in the hearts and souls of citizens all around our country."

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