- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

Congressional patrons of President Bush's faith-based social service plan said yesterday that they were resigned to the program not passing this year, although they were determined to pass incentives for charitable giving right away.

Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican, told reporters in a briefing yesterday that help for charitable institutions became particularly vital after September 11 and the resulting extra burden on charities.

They said that since the Senate Democratic leadership won't commit to the entire package, they will go for just the incentives.

"We can't get a commitment to do that, so we'll see if we can break it apart," Mr. Santorum said. "There's ample opportunity to get certainly the tax relief, and even some language that may be agreeable to the House and Senate on some of the other issues."

The president campaigned last year on his faith-based initiative, which he saw as a way to free religious charitable organizations to work in society. A bill based on his plan passed the House in July by 233-198, with 15 Democrats joining all but four Republicans in supporting it.

But the House bill hasn't gone anywhere in the Senate because the Democratic majority contends the bill-writing is too partisan and that some provisions would let religious organizations discriminate in their hiring practices.

Instead, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat who became his party's point man on the issue, began building a new bill from the ground up, in cooperation with Mr. Santorum and the White House.

That bill would include some of the president's original proposals like incentives for charitable giving, but the bill extends far beyond faith-based organization. One major component is increased funding for the social services block-grant program the large pool of federal money that helps community organizations do their work.

A spokesman for Mr. Lieberman said proponents now are waiting for the White House and Senate Democratic leadership to agree to a price tag for the bill the president wants $28 billion, but Republicans say Democrats haven't counteroffered.

"He's very optimistic that if we keep working together we're going to get this done by the end of the year," said spokesman Dan Gerstein.

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Watts, who head the Senate and House Republican conferences, outlined at their briefing the issues they thought would return next year: "economic security," Social Security, a prescription-drug benefit program and education.

Mr. Santorum said he expects the president to kick off next year's political season by redefining compassionate conservatism for wartime America.

Both Mr. Santorum and Mr. Watts also accused the Senate under the leadership of Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, of obstructing Republican proposals, and Mr. Santorum repeated a sentiment among Republicans that the president had been more than patient with Mr. Daschle to date.

"He's got his hand out, and Tom Daschle's chewed on it like a rabid dog," Mr. Santorum said. "I think the president has shown remarkable restraint not to pull his hand away. But he has not. So the question is, how long is the president going to let this dog chew on his hand."

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