- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

The Republican sponsor of the broad faith-based initiative in the House said this week that he would support the narrower Senate version of the bill boosting chances that the measure could become law this year.
"Half a loaf is better than going hungry," Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican, said in a statement on Oct. 10. "It has been such a long time since the House passed our version of the faith-based initiative. Underserved communities shouldn't have to wait any longer."
The Senate version of the bill crafted by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican would increase the tax benefits of donating to faith-based or community charities. The two are working on an agreement to bring the bill to the Senate floor before Congress adjourns.
The White House has urged action on the bill, which is the remaining part of the president's faith-based proposal. The more comprehensive version of Mr. Bush's proposal sponsored by Mr. Watts passed the House last year but ran into problems because it contains the hotly debated "charitable choice" component, which would allow religious organizations to compete for a wide array of government grants. The Senate bill does not contain charitable choice.
Some thought Mr. Watts would insist on his broader bill, making it unlikely that anything would pass this year. But Watts spokesman Kevin Schweers said that Mr. Watts would support the Senate bill if it comes to the House floor, and he hopes this news would spur the Senate to act on the bill.
"We've always felt that [the House bill] is a better bill," Mr. Schweers said. "But in these closing days of the Congress, we want to do as much as we can for underserved communities right now."
Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Santorum are close to an agreement that would allow their bill to come to the Senate floor. It has been snagged because some Democrats want to offer several amendments. Mr. Lieberman said that there "seems to be an understanding" that Democrats will offer four amendments and Republicans will offer one amendment.
Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, and other Democrats are concerned that religious groups will be able to discriminate in their hiring. Their amendments would address this concern, though details were not available.
Reed spokesman Adam Bozzi said that the goal is to "make sure that religious organizations are not able to discriminate using federal funds."
Mr. Lieberman said that the Democratic proposals do not deal with the charities bill itself, but rather seek to change a provision in current law that allows religious organizations to hire only people of their faith. "They want to change that, even though we don't affect that in this bill," Mr. Lieberman said.
The Republican amendment will be offered by Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who opposes a provision in the bill that would give a 25 percent discount on capital gains tax to private property owners who sell their land to environmental groups or the government, instead of to other private parties. He wants to expand the tax break to other types of groups.
Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Santorum are working to secure enough votes to defeat all amendments and pass a clean bill so the House will accept it.
The Senate bill, as approved by the Senate Finance Committee in June, would allow those who do not itemize on their tax returns to deduct a portion of their charitable giving, allow tax-free donations from individual retirement accounts to charities and provide enhanced tax benefits to farmers or restaurants that donate excess food to charity. It would also establish government-matched savings accounts for low-income people.


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