- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

A coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans, pushing a measure that could force churches to hire homosexuals, caused House Republican leaders yesterday to postpone a vote on President Bush's plan for religious groups to deliver government-funded social services.
After a day of vote-counting, Republican leaders said they likely have enough votes to defeat the provision advocated by Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican who often votes with Democrats on social issues.
But the uncertainty forced a delay in voting on Mr. Bush's faith-based proposal, which Republican leaders also say they have the votes to approve. That vote should come today.
Mr. Foley, an advocate of homosexual rights, wants to amend the Community Solutions Act to require religious groups that receive government funding to adhere to all state and local civil rights laws. He was working yesterday with Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, the only openly homosexual Republican in the House.
Mr. Kolbe said there are "good philosophical discussions going on" and that he still hoped to win the procedural vote today.
Many conservatives are opposed, arguing that federal civil-rights law since 1964 has exempted religious groups from employment anti-discrimination laws. They say the faith-based bill simply follows that settled law.
Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and a vocal supporter of the president's plan, said Mr. Foley's amendment could require churches and other religious groups to hire people with whom they are fundamentally at odds, such as homosexuals.
"I don't think we ought to ram something down their throats that they don't want," Mr. Chabot said.
But House Republican leaders, keenly aware of the proposal's importance to Mr. Bush, were wary of losing a procedural vote on such a high-profile issue. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay told Republican lawmakers yesterday that although he opposes Mr. Foley's motion, Republicans could vote for it if they wished, and party leaders would work to delete the measure in a House-Senate conference committee.
Democrats said the Republicans delayed a vote on the faith-based bill because they lacked the votes to pass it.
"They wanted to give the president a big legislative victory as he goes off to Europe," said Erik Smith, spokesman for House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt.
Last week, 19 House Republicans broke ranks with the leadership on a procedural vote to defeat a campaign-finance bill. But most top Republicans were happy with that result.
Republicans said yesterday Democrats were manufacturing an excuse to vote against one of Mr. Bush's top domestic priorities.
"All of this stems from misinformation and propaganda," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of House Republicans and a sponsor of the bill.
"The Democrats never had a problem with this legislation until there was a Republican president in the White House," said Terry Holt, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
A limited charitable-choice provision was included in the 1996 welfare-reform law signed by President Clinton. The pending bill would greatly expand the types of federal grants for which religious groups could apply to deliver food, shelter, drug treatment and other services.
Mr. Bush visited House Republicans at the Capitol last week to make a personal plea to approve the legislation.

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