- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Frustrated by what they say are Democrats’ blocking final passage of a small piece of President Bush’s original faith-based charity initiative, two key senators have a new strategy of trying to attach the bill to an unrelated tax measure.

“Blocking this is simply … not acceptable,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and co-sponsor of the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act (CARE), which consists mostly of a series of tax incentives to encourage donations to faith-based and community charities.

Mr. Santorum and his co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, complain that Senate Democrats are holding up the bill, so they plan to try to attach it to a larger, business tax bill that the Senate will consider next week.

Mr. Santorum and the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, also held a meeting last week with more than 200 charitable, religious, business and community groups who want the bill to become law. The groups were told to strongly pressure Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, to let the measure move forward, a Republican aide said.

Mr. Lieberman didn’t blame Mr. Daschle specifically, but said there’s no reason to hold up the charity bill, since there’s nothing controversial in it. The strategy of attaching it to the larger business tax bill “is the way to do it,” he said, because the tax bill “is a legislative horse that’s going to go across the finish line.”

The charity bill — a scaled-down version of Mr. Bush’s original faith-based package — passed the Senate last year. A slightly different version subsequently passed the House. But when Senate Republicans tried to move the measures to a conference committee so they could resolve differences, Democrats objected at least six times over the past several months, Senate Republican aides said.

Sarah Feinberg, spokeswoman for Mr. Daschle, said her boss strongly supports the bill and wants it to become law, but does not trust Republican-led conference committees, where contentious items are sometimes added to bills in the dead of night, without Democratic input.

“They have so abused the conference process that we have no choice but to pass legislation by other means,” she said.

Mr. Daschle wants Senate Republicans to send the Senate-passed bill back to the House, urging leaders there to approve it. If that won’t work, he wants House and Senate Republicans to negotiate with him on what the final bill will look like, before sending it to conference.

Mr. Daschle will advocate these steps and urge the bill’s enactment in letters he is drafting to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

The big difference between the House and Senate bills is that the Senate bill would authorize about $1.4 billion for the Social Security Block Grant program (SSBG), which funds community-outreach programs, and the House version would authorize nothing for it. Mr. Daschle wants the Senate’s funding level.

But Mr. Santorum has already tried to negotiate with Mr. Daschle, Republican aides said, and even presented Mr. Daschle with a potential compromise plan last year that would guarantee at least $700 million for SSBG. Mr. Daschle didn’t respond at the time and now seems unwilling to compromise with the House on this, the aides said.

They said Mr. Daschle is holding up the bill simply because Democrats want to prevent an election-year win for the White House.

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