- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and others are working hard this week to get an agreement that would allow Senate-floor action on a bill that is part of President Bush's faith-based initiative.
But the window of opportunity for passing the bipartisan bill which would increase the tax benefits of donating to faith-based or community charities is quickly closing, with a crowded legislative schedule and elections approaching.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Monday he told Mr. Santorum, "the next two or three days were critical. If we couldn't work out an agreement, that probably time was going to pass it by."
"I'm working it in there," Mr. Santorum said as he left the Senate floor yesterday.
Mr. Santorum who is co-sponsor of the bill with Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman has been trying to ensure that each party will offer only one amendment to the bill when it hits the Senate floor, allowing it to be completed in a few hours.
Mr. Santorum said Republicans have agreed to this setup, with one amendment to be offered by Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican. But Democrats have not yet formally agreed.
But Ranit Schmeltzer, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said they agree to one or two amendments per side.
Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, has amendments he would like to offer on the floor and does not want any limits.
"We don't want to limit the amount of amendments," Reed spokesman Adam Bozzi said. "We think this deserves a full and fair debate, not two hours."
Even though both sides seem close to formally agreeing on the setup, it is not clear when the bill would come to the floor.
The White House has urged action on the bill, which is the remaining part of the president's faith-based proposal. The comprehensive version of Mr. Bush's proposal was passed by 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.
The measure, 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.
Mr. Gramm opposes a provision 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. His proposed amendment would expand the tax break to other types of groups.
One Senate Republican aide said there have been repeated Democratic objections to language clarifying that a charity cannot be rejected for a federal grant simply because it has religious icons on its premises, religious language in its chartering documents or religious qualifications for its governing board members.
Some members also have concerns about the bill's cost $10.4 billion over 10 years, according to Mr. Santorum's office. Although the Finance Committee added provisions to offset that cost, some members do not think they are adequate.
If the bill passes the Senate, House Republican leaders could insist on their more comprehensive bill, forcing a conference.
Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein said that if this happens, the bill is a "dead duck" this year.


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