- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

The House yesterday approved legislation that would allow faith-based groups to receive federal job-training money while continuing to hire workers only of a particular religious faith.

The hiring language prompted a lengthy floor fight yesterday from Democrats who said it amounts to discrimination.

The measure was included in a bill that reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act, consolidating funding to eliminate duplication and waste, requiring training programs to better reflect the needs of their local areas, and creating personal re-employment accounts to help the unemployed purchase job training.

The bill passed by a 224-200 vote, after Republicans defended the hiring language. Four Democrats and 220 Republicans voted to pass the overall bill against 191 Democrats, eight Republicans and one independent.

“Many of these faith-based institutions provide assistance to the hardest-to-serve individuals,” said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “Why would we want to deny them the opportunity to help in federal job-training efforts?”

The hiring language, sometimes called charitable choice, already applies to several federal grant programs including welfare and drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs. Adding it to job-training programs under the House bill is just one aspect of a renewed effort by the White House and congressional Republicans to jump-start faith-based initiatives on Capitol Hill.

Senate Republicans yesterday said they will push a wide-ranging anti-poverty agenda, including a commitment for partnerships with more faith-based groups and legislation designed to spur charitable giving through tax incentives.

President Bush on Tuesday reiterated his commitment to faith-based groups — most notably, calling on Congress to expand the hiring language to other federal programs instead of just having it apply to some.

“I want this issue resolved,” Mr. Bush said. “Congress needs to send me the same language protecting religious hiring that President Clinton signed on four other occasions.”

Republicans were encouraged. “The president was clearer than I’ve ever heard him on the hiring freedom,” said a Senate Republican aide.

House Democrats yesterday argued that the religious-hiring provision in the job-training bill amounts to government-sanctioned discrimination.

“This provision is offensive, ugly, wrong,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. “It is a slippery slope from here on out and I fear this is just the beginning.”

Republicans said religious groups shouldn’t have to change their nature in order to receive funds to help people.

“Receipt of federal funds should not be conditioned on a faith-based organization’s giving up part of its religious identity and mission,” read a White House statement of policy, supporting the job-training bill.

Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, offered an amendment to strip the hiring language, but it was defeated on a 239-186 vote, with 14 Democrats joining 225 Republicans in voting against it. Three Republicans joined 182 Democrats and one independent in supporting the amendment.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said he will try again to enact the Charitable Giving Act that passed both chambers last Congress but stalled before it became law. The measure is part of a broader Senate Republican anti-poverty agenda that includes welfare reform reauthorization, low-income housing assistance and funding programs to reduce recidivism rates in prisons.

Mr. Santorum’s bill is a much narrower version of Mr. Bush’s original 2001 faith-based measure, which stalled in the Senate because it expanded charitable choice across the government. The narrower bill would allow taxpayers to deduct charitable contributions even if they don’t itemize and provide incentives for farmers, restaurants and businesses to donate food.

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