- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 2001

President Bush yesterday called on the Democrat-led Senate to follow up quickly on the House passage of his faith-based social-service plan.
"I urge the United States Senate to act on this measure quickly, so that the armies of compassion, which exist all across America, will be invigorated and continue their march to make sure our country is hopeful and optimistic," Mr. Bush said as he departed England for a Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy.
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, raising concerns about homosexual rights, indicated he is in no hurry to address the bill this year.
"I certainly intend at some point in this Congress to have that debate," Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, told reporters. "Until we know with a little more clarity just how many bills there will be it's pretty hard to say what our schedule will be."
The House on Thursday approved the Community Solutions Act by 233-198, with 15 Democrats joining all but four Republicans in favor of the plan.
The bill would expand opportunities for religious organizations to apply for federal grants to deliver social services. It also would create about $13 billion in tax deductions to encourage charitable giving.
Mr. Bush campaigned on the proposal as the centerpiece of his "compassionate conservative" philosophy. He maintains that religious groups often do a better job of improving the lives of the needy than do government agencies.
Mr. Daschle indicated that the fight in the Senate will mirror objections by House Democrats that the legislation does not protect homosexuals from discrimination in hiring.
"Some of the provisions in the bill would allow an exemption [from] the civil rights laws of this country for organizations who are the beneficiaries of this new program," Mr. Daschle said. "That concerns me a great deal."
"Rolling back the mandates and the guidelines that we have with regard to tolerance in this country is unacceptable," he said. "And I think that the Senate will take a very critical view of those provisions in the bill."
Supporters of the legislation say the bill merely preserves current civil rights law by allowing churches and religious charities to hire people who share their religious principles.
But House Republican leaders quelled a rebellion by a handful of Republican lawmakers this week by promising to work in any House-Senate conference committee to include a provision requiring religious groups to adhere to state and local civil rights laws.
Mr. Daschle also said he shares concerns with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and sponsor of a more limited version of the House bill, about the constitutional questions of the government funding religious organizations.
Mr. Bush said lawmakers should keep in mind the people who benefit from the plan.
"It's an initiative that puts our federal government squarely on the side of faith-based and community-based programs, all of which exist to help a neighbor in need," the president said. "Government can't cause people to love one another, but what government can do is stand side by side with loving individuals who are intent upon bringing compassion and hope to neighborhoods where there may not be any."
Mr. Bush acknowledged that the debate on Capitol Hill "has been long and arduous."
"And now the Congress is beginning to act," he said. "It's a positive step toward making sure the American dream extends its reach throughout all our communities."
Liberal advocacy groups are promising to fight the legislation in the Senate and file a court challenge if the proposal becomes law.
"This bill joins church and state in unholy matrimony," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "If the Bush initiative becomes law, we'll go to court and file for divorce."
"The Constitution forbids government promotion of religion, but that's exactly what this initiative does," Mr. Lynn said. "The bill passes the collection plate to taxpayers, subsidizes discrimination and entangles religion with government. The Senate must put a stop to this misguided scheme."

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