- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

A top House Republican visited Connecticut yesterday to promote a faith-based initiative that is broader than a bill introduced by the state's junior senator, Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman.
"The armies of compassion are waiting for the Senate to follow the House's lead and pass a solid faith-based bill," Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma said during the last day of a four-day, four-state tour to stump for Republican candidates.
Mr. Watts, chairman of the House Republican Conference, held a round-table discussion and news conference yesterday to discuss the House-passed bill, which contained much of the president's faith-based initiative and a provision allowing religious organizations to compete for more government grants.
Mr. Watts, who was in Connecticut to support Republican Rep. Rob Simmons, wants the Senate to act on its bill and send it to House-Senate conference.
"We're still very hopeful that the Senate moves their bill and we can come to a conference meeting and reach a compromise," said Kevin Schweers, his spokesman.
Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein said a conference with the House would "reopen old wounds" and "inject some political controversy back into the debate," perhaps preventing anything from becoming law.
The Senate bill, introduced by Mr. Lieberman and Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, takes many noncontroversial ideas from the House-passed bill meant to boost private and public support for charities.
But it does not include the "charitable choice" provision that would allow religious organizations to compete for an wider range of government grants.
Mr. Gerstein said supporters of the Senate bill want to avoid a conference, set aside the House-passed bill, and instead have the House simply pass the Senate bill after the Senate acts on it.
"At this point, we feel the Senate bill is the viable vehicle," he said.
Mr. Gerstein said the Senate Finance Committee is preparing to move the bill and that "we're optimistic it's going to move soon. Things appear to be very much on track."
Chris Myers, an aide to Mr. Santorum, said the bill could make it through both the committee and the Senate floor before Memorial Day recess.
He said Mr. Santorum supports both versions of the bill but is "focused on what we have to do, which is pass the Senate bill." Mr. Myers would not speculate on what would happen after that but noted that lawmakers have fewer days to pass legislation in an election year.
White House spokesman Anne Womack also approved of both bills.
Mr. Schweers pointed out that "charitable choice" is already part of federal laws, including the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.
The Lieberman-Santorum bill, among other things, would offer a series of tax incentives to encourage charitable giving including a charitable tax deduction of as much as $400 for individuals and $800 for couples, who do not itemize on their tax returns. It also would create a federal fund to provide technical assistance to small faith-based and community groups.


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