- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

This year's main legislation to promote faith-based initiatives died in the Senate yesterday, as Republicans called for a final vote before the lame-duck session ended but Democrats ran out the clock by demanding to add several new amendments.
Republicans who backed the CARE (Charity, Aid, Recovery and Empowerment) Act, which gives incentives for charitable giving and some direct aid to social services, said Democrats killed the legislation by raising fears that religious welfare groups would abuse the money.
"A couple of senators stood in the way," said James Towey, head of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. "The agenda of some of these interest groups blinds them to the needs of the poor. This battle's not over."
In two years of debate over Senate legislation, black civil rights groups, church-state separationists and homosexual rights organizations have warned of discrimination under an expanded charitable-choice provision, which was passed with bipartisan support in 1996 by the Senate. The 1996 law enabled faith-based organizations to compete for federal grants to provide basic social services.
But Republicans said the CARE Act added nothing new to the 1996 law on charitable choice, so Democrats were raising false church-state and discrimination concerns.
"They want to fight a fight that's not in this bill," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, who has co-sponsored the legislation for two years running along with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.
"We do nothing on charitable choice and we do nothing on faith-based organizations," Mr. Santorum said of the CARE Act. "They now have a problem with the very law they passed under President Clinton back in 1996."
The CARE Act, which had 18 Republican and 10 Democratic sponsors, would have cost $10.4 billion over 10 years, mostly in tax incentives for families and corporations to give to charity.
It also included $1.3 billion in block grants to social services. Under the act, religious groups can bid for social service grants. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said it was concern about abuses by religious groups that prompted him to seek amendments yesterday.
"We've never had a hearing [on the bill] before the Senate Judiciary Committee," he said, rejecting Republican charges that he was among five Democrats who torpedoed the legislation.
"The object here was not to kill the bill," Mr. Durbin said. "I'm sure we'll pick it up again at the first of the year. That is the only realistic timetable."
Mr. Durbin, who supports the bill's goals, said the Democratic amendments would help ensure that religious groups taking federal grants would not discriminate, proselytize, defy local regulatory laws or keep sloppy books.
The House, which passed a bill waiting to be reconciled with a Senate version, held contentious hearings on the subject in July 2001.
In the Senate yesterday, Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Carl Levin of Michigan, Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York all tried to add amendments.
Mr. Santorum said he first had asked the Democrats to bundle their amendments into one, but conceded to full debate on each as long as the bill came to a vote.
"I never take these things personally," he said after a second year of failure on the legislation. "This would have released $10 billion to promote charity and to help the poor. We'll get on it right away" in January during the new session of Congress, he said.
An administration official said that even with a Republican majority in the Senate, resurrecting the legislation still will need strong bipartisan support.
"We look forward to working with the next Congress," Mr. Towey said.

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