- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

Problems surfacing on Capitol Hill last week slowed any passage of a scaled-down version of the President Bush’s faith-based plan.

One Democratic objection remained after Senate Republican leaders spent last week smoothing over problems that arose from both sides of the aisle. Senate leaders were trying to move the bill into conference before a weeklong recess.

Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist on Friday said Democrats had an objection to the bill, so he could not formally send it to be reconciled with the House version. The House and Senate versions mainly consist of a series of tax incentives aimed at increasing charitable giving by individuals and companies to both faith-based and secular social service groups. They are a slice of Mr. Bush’s original plan.

“I am disappointed,” Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, said Friday as the Senate left for a weeklong break. “I do hope we can clear this agreement with my Democratic colleagues just as soon as we return.”

A Senate Republican aide said the Democratic objection was coming from Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat. Mr. Harkin’s office did not return calls yesterday.

Senate Republican leaders have already quelled a few other Senate fires that were threatening the bill’s progress.

Notably, in order to prevent Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, from blocking the bill, Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and other leaders agreed to attach the Senate’s proposal to expand payments under the child tax credit to low-income parents who pay no income tax. That proposal will now be part of the charitable giving bill when it goes to conference.

House Republicans oppose expanding the payments unless the Senate agrees to make the tax cut permanent for all recipients of all incomes. House and Senate negotiators have been unable to break the impasse.

A spokesman for Mrs. Snowe said the Senate low-income measure is “just sitting in conference” and the charitable giving bill is “a window of opportunity” to push the issue.

Mr. Santorum still believes the low-income child tax credit issue should be resolved in its own conference committee. There is no guarantee that it will be part of the final charitable giving bill, Republican aides note.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said there were no Democratic objections to the charitable giving bill and senators last week were simply trying to ensure the Senate sticks to its guns in areas of the bill where it differs from the House.

The biggest difference between the two is that the Senate bill would increase social services block grants by $1.3 billion and the House would not.

But the Senate Republican aide said there was a Harkin objection that apparently has to do with a tax provision Republicans want to add to the bill, extending some temporary tax breaks that are set to expire.

Republicans are miffed about the holdup.

“We have a network of thousands of groups around the country very eager that this be done this fall,” the Republican aide said of the charities bill. “They’ll definitely let Senator Harkin know. … We certainly hope Mr. Harkin will change his mind and resolve this.”

The legislation is the remnants of the president’s original faith-based proposal, which passed the House last Congress but stalled in the Senate, mostly over its proposed expansion of so-called charitable choice, which would allow faith-based groups to hire only those of their own faith and still receive federal funds.

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