- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

A key House committee yesterday approved a scaled-down version of the president’s faith-based initiative, consisting largely of tax incentives to encourage charitable donations.

“We want our tax code to spur greater charitable giving and set off a domino effect of even more good works by even more charities,” said bill sponsor and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, after the House Ways and Means Committee passed the bill by voice vote.

The bill, which aims to increase donations to both religious and secular charities, will go to the floor. The Senate passed a similar bill in April.

The House and Senate bills are just a piece of the president’s original faith-based plan. They leave out the most contentious provision: expanding the government’s so-called charitable-choice initiative.

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 them to receive federal funds even if they hire only people of their same faith. Critics said the House proposal promoted government-funded religious discrimination, and the bill stalled in the Senate.

The White House and congressional supporters then decided to pursue a scaled-down bill consisting mostly of the tax-related provisions.

“Is it a total victory like we would like to see? No,” said Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican. “But a victory is a victory, and I think this is a step in the right direction.”

Conservatives and the White House are working to expand charitable choice on a piecemeal basis. A House Republican aide said the House has extended charitable-choice protections to programs under two bills this year: the Head Start bill and a bill providing job training programs.

Jim Towey, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said the president “realizes pragmatically that this is the best approach to take” because trying to do it in one major bill “created more problems.”

Both House and Senate charitable-giving 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.

“This legislation fulfills many of President Bush’s objectives,” Mr. Towey said.

Among the several differences between the bills is the Senate’s proposed $1.3 billion increase of social-services block grants to states, which the White House opposes and House Republican leaders have not included.

The Ways and Means Committee also yesterday rejected by a 16-12 vote a Democratic amendment that would have increased the block grants by about $1.1 billion.

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