Programs - House OKs Religious Charities Plan 010719
By DAVID ESPO
AP Special Correspondent
JULY 19, 18:29 EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a victory for
President Bush, the Republican-controlled House approved legislation
Thursday expanding the role of religious charities in federal social
programs. Opponents complained vociferously the bill would pre-empt state
and local anti-discrimination laws.
The 233-198 vote represented a down payment
on Bush's campaign pledge to ``rally the armies of compassion'' to attack
the nation's social ills. The bill faces an uncertain future in the
Democratic-controlled Senate, although supporters pledged to press for a
vote this fall.
``No one can love a neighbor as well as a
loving neighbor, and we must unleash good people of faith and works in
every community in our country,'' Bush said in a statement issued during
his European trip. ``By doing so, we can extend the hope and the promise
and the opportunity that is at the heart of the American dream to the
heart of every child in America.''
He urged Senate action ``to quickly unleash
this enormous force for good.''
House passage was largely along party lines
after a debate punctuated by an unusual moment in which one Democrat
gently upbraided members of his own party for pushing away people of
faith. ``Sometimes, we almost ... put out a sign that says, `You're not
welcome in our party,''' said Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio.
``Faith heals, faith renews, faith gives
the hope that this country needs,'' said Rep. Charles Pickering, R-Miss.,
before passage, which came after a one-day delay prompted by objections
from GOP rebels. ``Our president has called on us to remove the hindrances
... to the faith-based approach.''
But Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said her
Catholic education ``has taught me to oppose discrimination in every form.
... The problem is that today this House will vote to legalize
discrimination as we minister to the needs of the poor.''
In the waning moments of debate, the bill's
supporters turned back a final attempt by Democrats to ban employment
discrimination under federal, state or local laws for any organization
receiving government funds under the law. The vote was 234-195.
That issue led the conservative Family
Research Council to claim that the bill was ``in danger of being hijacked
by homosexual groups.'' The council said it would abandon its support for
the bill if it were changed to defer to state and local laws.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Tom Daschle,
D-S.D., has not pledged to schedule debate before next year. In a
reference to the dispute over discrimination, he told reporters during the
day, ``I can't imagine that we could pass any bill that would tolerate
slipping back into a level of tolerance that would be unacceptable in
Religious charities are permitted to
receive grants in a small number of federal programs under current law.
The legislation would expand the list significantly to areas such as
housing, domestic violence and hunger relief.
Aid recipients would not be required to
attend worship services or religious instruction, and individuals would be
offered access to assistance from nonreligious organizations if they
desired. The organizations themselves would be permitted to retain
religious names, charters and symbols on building walls.
In addition, the bill includes a series of
tax breaks — worth $13 billion over the next decade — to encourage
charitable giving by individuals and corporations.
Taxpayers who do not itemize would be
permitted to deduct $25 in donations annually, rising to $100 by the end
of the decade.
Constitutional and financial pressures
forced supporters of the bill to water it down on its way to the House
floor. Concerns about separation of church and state led to changes that
would likely prevent funds from reaching some of the religious groups that
Bush often cites as examples.
Also, the tax breaks shrank from more than
$80 billion in Bush's original budget — so much so that Democrats sniped
that most taxpayers would shave less than $4 off their income taxes if
they took advantage of the deduction.
Some critics complained the bill would
violate the constitution's requirement for separation of church and state.
But most of the controversy surrounded
claims the bill would erode federal protections against discrimination in
hiring, and more prominently, pre-empt state and local laws on the
Supporters said religious organizations
needed to retain their essential character and should be permitted to take
religious views into account in hiring. They noted that Congress granted
them an exemption from anti-discrimination provisions in a landmark 1964
civil rights law.
Critics said the introduction of federal
funds dramatically changed the situation. ``This bill would allow them
(churches) to discriminate with federal funds,'' said Rep. Jerrold Nadler,
Several Republicans expressed concern about
the pre-emption, causing a decision by the leadership on Wednesday to
delay a vote on the bill. In a scripted exchange on the House floor, Rep.
J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, a leading supporter of the bill and a member of
the GOP leadership, pledged to address the issue during House-Senate
negotiations on a final compromise.
Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., and others who had
raised the issue voted in favor of the bill, although he was one of four
GOP lawmakers to support the Democratic bid to restore the supremacy of
state and local anti-bias laws.
The bill had the support of 217
Republicans, 15 Democrats — many of them Southern conservatives— and
one independent. There were 193 Democrats, four Republicans and one
independent in opposition.
On the Net:
Information on the bill, H.R. 7, can be
found at http://thomas.loc.gov/