- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2001

House and Senate lawmakers yesterday embraced President Bush's plan to expand the role of religious groups in social programs and described it as the next movement in welfare reform.
"We accept the challenge to discuss what faith-based programs can do in America, what role they play," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference.
The plan outlined by Mr. Bush would allow religious groups to compete for billions of dollars in government grants and give tax breaks to encourage charitable donations.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, called Mr. Bush's plan a "heartfelt policy."
"He believes to his core the importance of giving to individuals struggling in our society, the choice of going to the faith-based organizations to heal them, rather than traditional government programs," Mr. Santorum said.
"Bush created an opportunity here to move forward and work with Democrats to put a bill together in the Senate and bring forward a strong bipartisan package," Mr. Santorum said.
The proposal was also endorsed by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat. The former vice-presidential candidate called it "a commendable call to conscience."
"President Bush has made clear that he wants the federal government to do more to tap into this charitable and spiritual wellspring and rally what he calls 'the armies of compassion' to fulfill the American promise," Mr. Lieberman said.
Mr. Bush announced his legislative plan at a Washington-area school Tuesday and delivered it to Congress yesterday. Mr. Santorum said he planned to introduce that plan in the Senate, and Mr. Watts will carry the legislative proposal in the House.
Opponents of the measure fear it crosses the divide between church and state.
Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican, said the federal government should not endorse faith, but it should not be hostile to it either.
"Many things government can do, but it can't give hope to the heart, or meaning to a person's life," Mr. Hutchinson said.
The plan gives a $500 tax credit for charitable donations, and establishes a charitable deduction for 70 percent of Americans who don't itemize their tax returns.
"We're not giving charities a choice, but people a choice in the places they can go to for help," Mr. Santorum said.
"We must remove barriers that keep community groups and neighborhood heroes from feeding the hungry, curbing crime, strengthening families, and overcoming poverty," Rep. Jennifer Dunn, Washington Republican, said in a statement.
"Those who contribute, regardless of their income, ought to be rewarded for their generosity," Mrs. Dunn said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday released a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers that analyzed the impact of Mr. Bush's proposal.
The study said the deductions should stimulate an additional $14.6 billion per year in additional charitable giving, representing an 11 percent increase in donations to charity across the country. That totals $80 billion over five years and would create more than 11.7 million new charity donors.
"Part of the president's vision for this country, part of the compassion that he sees, is empowering individual Americans to do more to help their fellow citizens in need, and he's very heartened to note the results of this study," Mr. Fleischer said.

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