- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Behind-the-scenes efforts to break a legislative logjam erupted into public view on Capitol Hill in the past two weeks, as a group of lawmakers tried to jump start the process of reconciling two different bills promoting the health of America’s charities. The two measures, the CARE (Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment) Act, sponsored by Sens. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and the Charitable Giving Act, authored by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, and Rep. Harold Ford, Tennessee Democrat, passed with large, bipartisan majorities. The House bill passed 408-13; the Senate adopted its measure 95-5.

Despite this overwhelming support, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is blocking final resolution by objecting to the creation of a House-Senate conference committee to hammer out differences between the two bills. (Under Senate rules, any lawmaker can object to a motion to go to conference or appoint conferees.) These obstructionist tactics not only dam the streams of compassion in America, but also create large pools of suspicion that Democratic leaders care more about national politics than the politics of caring.

Though differences exist between the bills, both help infuse resources into social service organizations, making it easier for individuals and other groups to contribute to charities.

Two weeks ago, at a meeting in the Capitol, Messrs. Santorum and Blunt and other leaders issued a challenge to over 200 representatives of charitable organizations, including the March of Dimes, the United Jewish Committee and World Relief, urging them to turn up the heat on the Senate to agree to a conference with the House. Two days ago, Mr. Santorum made another unanimous consent request to resolve the differences in a conference committee — his seventh such appeal in the past year. Mr. Daschle again said no. In a letter to congressional leaders last week, Mr. Daschle said he supports the legislation but wants to avoid a conference committee, saying the House should simply pass the Senate bill.

His bicameral insensitivity left some grumbling. “That’s just a big smokescreen,” one House Republican leadership aide told me. “Why would the House just accept the Senate bill when we passed our own version with over 400 votes? Not only does that process set a terrible precedent, but it’s insulting to the House members — just another example of Senator Daschle saying one thing and doing another.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Blunt believes the charitable lobbying campaign is getting traction: “Clearly, Daschle’s recent actions are not a serious effort to get anything done, but it is a sign that he’s feeling the pressure from America’s charitable organizations.”

A conference committee, given the bipartisan support for the legislation,could quickly reach a final agreement and maybe agree to a superior measure. “I think a conference could produce an even better product than either the House or Senate bill,” Mr. Blunt told me. So what’sMr. Daschle’s hesitation?

Some argue he is loath to let anything pass easily because legislative accomplishments inure to the majority’s favor. A variation on this theme is that Democratic leaders want to sabotage the measure because of the likely large bipartisan nature of the final product. Anytime Republicans can work with more than a handful of Democrats to forge bipartisan consensus, it makes it more difficult to paint the majorityasreactionary scoundrels.

Yet there is even deeper trepidation among some Democrats. Strengthening charities is one of the pillars of President Bush’s compassionate conservative agenda. Passing a compromise version of these two measures cracks what some liberals believe is a government-endowed monopoly on compassion. What many ossified liberals don’t understand is that helping people takes many forms. Compassion doesn’t begin and end with government transfer payments.

But breaking this monopoly threatens those with a vested interest in preserving it. For the past 70 years, since the New Deal, liberal Democrats and allied interests constructed a paradigm that equates government spending with compassion. This ideological architecture is now so dominant on the political landscape that failure to support massive federal social welfare spending means indifference to the poor. Enacting this legislation will rejuvenate what Mr. Bush calls the “armies of compassion,” helping win the war against a one-size-fits-all government welfare monopoly.

In the latest issue of the Public Interest, Gertrude Himmelfarb reminds us how de Tocqueville, in the mid-19th century, noted that democracy is threatened by an egalitarianism that undermines liberty and an individualism that saps “the spring of public virtue.” America’s saving grace was found in “voluntary associations” that mitigate these effects and “maintain a sense of public virtue.”

Mr. Daschle should agree to a conference committee and let those “springs of public virtue” overflow his procedural dam.

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