- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

A $13 billion tax incentive package was overwhelmingly passed by the House yesterday, which legislators hope will spur charitable donations.

In a 408-13 vote, House members OK’d a scaled-down version of the president’s faith-based initiative package aimed at encouraging private donations to both faith-based and secular charities. The chamber left out the most contentious aspect of the president’s original plan: expanding the government’s so-called charitable-choice initiative.

House Republican leaders lauded the bipartisan effort.

“It is a tax bill that really is an important step towards what we do for charities in this country,” said bill sponsor and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.”It’s an important step in the president’s faith-based initiative.”

The Senate passed a similar bill in April, and now both bills head to conference, where the legislation has broad bipartisan support. President Bush is expected to be sign the legislation into law.

Among the key differences between the two bills is the Senate’s call for a $1.3 billion increase in social-services block grants to states, which the White House opposes and House Republican leaders kept out of their bill.

House Democrats tried to buck that yesterday by offering an amendment that would increase block-grant spending by $1.1 billion, but the proposal was defeated, 220-203.

The House bill is estimated to cost roughly $13 billion over 10 years. Supporters say the legislation is needed because donations to charities have fallen in recent years.

But some Democrats asserted that this was another in a series of tax breaks that the country cannot afford.

“At some point the president has to be brought to reality,” said Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, who said the administration is “addicted” to tax cuts, hoping to distract the public from the “mess” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Bush administration said in a statement the House bill contains a number of provisions from the president’s faith-based plan that “will strengthen America’s charities and expand the important work of faith-based and grass-roots groups.”

Both bills would allow Americans who do not itemize on their tax returns to deduct a portion of charitable giving, and would allow tax-free donations to charity from individual retirement accounts.

They also would provide tax incentives for farms and restaurants to donate food to the needy and would provide $150 million in 2004 to a fund, set up by the Bush administration, that provides technical assistance to small faith-based and community charities.

The House passed a broad bill in 2001 that included expanding charitable choice to an array of government programs. Charitable choice, which applies to a few federal grant programs, allows faith-based groups to receive federal funds even if they hire only people of their same faith.

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