- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Hostage taking is never pleasant, even if it’s the figurative legislative variety in the rough-and-tumble world of Congress, where political pique often precludes reason. This is the point in the legislative calendar where consensus is king. Weeks before the end of the congressional session, lawmakers can use arcane procedures to stall, delay and threaten to hold popular legislation hostage to get concessions or make trades on other matters.

Yet,sometimes hostage takers choose the wrong victim. The current debate in the Senate about completing action on the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act of 2003 (CARE Act) is an example of a misguided legislativekidnapping. Lawmakersholding legislation captive should choose the right bill and make sure their action has the desired effect. Hijacking the CARE Act does neither.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota is blocking final action on the legislation because he’s upset about the level of his party’s participation in House-Senate conference committees. Yet, endangering passage of this popular legislation won’t fix that problem. His actions, moreover, inflict collateral damage on charities that have experiencedaserious downturn in donations, imperiling the needy people they serve.

The CARE Act provides billions of dollars in much-needed incentives to charities. The measure provides the opportunity for the 86 million Americans who do not itemize their taxes the chance to deduct a portion of their charitable contributions. It allows individuals to contribute from Individual Retirement Accounts for charitable purposes. The bill also offers $2 billion in food donation incentives — the equivalent of 878 million meals for the hungry over the next decade, according to America’s Second Harvest.

These new incentives are needed now. The Chronicle of Philanthropy released a study last week showing contributions to the 400 largest charities dropped in 2002 for the first time in 12 years (down 1.2 percent last year, compared with increases during the previous five years that average 12 percent a year).

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman spearheaded speedy Senate action on the measure earlier this year. Based on the growing charitable giving crisis, lawmakers responded with broad bipartisan support. The Senate passed the CARE Act in April by a vote of 95-5. The House followed suit, passing similar legislation 408-13 on Sept. 17. Now a House-Senate conference committee has to iron out some of the differences before the bill is sent to the president for his signature. Yet, Mr. Daschle is blocking the conference from convening. Unlike the House, where the speaker has sole control over the appointment of conferees, in the Senate moving to this last stage in the legislative process requires unanimous consent — and until now, Sen. Daschle hasn’t budged.

So, here we sit. Broadly supported bipartisan legislation, sorely needed to address a vexing problem, is stalled, with the congressional clock about to run out.

Viewed through a purely partisan prism, Senator Daschle’s actions make some sense. The CARE Act is part of the president’s faith-based initiative. Hobbling this important part of the White House’s domestic agenda comports with the Senate minority leader’s political game plan.

Others say Mr. Daschle believes picking a bill with broad bipartisan support increases the chances he will get the concessions he wants. It’s the legislative equivalent of stalking a wealthy kidnapping victim to ensure a generous ransom.

Yet in the end, this tactic is not well thought through. Whatever gripes Mr. Daschle harbors about the way Democrats are treated in House-Senate Conference negotiations will not get resolved by blocking this popular piece of legislation. He can’t change the partisan laws of physics by sidetracking one bill. Moreover, in terms of providing fair representation for Democrats on the House-Senate negotiations on this measure, Mr. Santorum and other Republican leaders have already given him that assurance.

Republican advocates of a compassionate conservative agenda should also raise the decibel level of their outrage based on Mr. Daschle’s actions. As support wanes for non-governmental institutions dedicated to helping people, the role of the federal government in providing these services grows. Republican lawmakersinterestedin promoting an alternative to the federal government monopoly have a huge stake in passage of this legislation.

Mr. Daschle’s hostage-taking parliamentary tricks need to be exposed. The only people hurt by his tactics are the charities in need of support and the people they serve. The only people helped are those who want to promote a federal government monopoly over social services. Neither outcome is desirable. Mr. Daschle’s strategy is not only feckless, but inexcusable.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide