Senate passes scaled-back faith-based initiative
WASHINGTON — The Senate has passed a scaled-back version of President Bush’s “faith-based initiative,” granting new tax breaks for charitable donations but blocking efforts to open government programs to religious organizations.
The revised measure, S.476, was approved 95-5 yesterday.
It now simply provides a variety of tax breaks for charity donations, including a break for contributors who do not itemize on their taxes. It also provides $1.3 billion more over two years for the Social Services Block Grant, a favorite program of Democrats.
The White House said it supports many elements of the bill but “strongly opposes” the increased money for the social-services program. President Bush suggested he wanted to see changes to more closely reflect his faith-based or “charitable choice” proposals, as they are sometimes called.
“America’s charities face tough times, and we can do more to support their efforts,” Bush said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to improve the CARE Act legislation.”
“I cannot understand why the administration would do such a divisive thing and undermine the harmony we achieved with this strongly bipartisan, high-constructive bill we passed today,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said in a statement.
It was unclear what the bill’s fate would be in the House, or whether the Senate might eventually support a bill that includes more of what Bush wants.
As passed by the Senate, the bill would give people who do not itemize on their taxes a break for donations to charity beyond $250 in any one year, up to $500. To keep the cost down, the new tax deduction would expire in two years.
The bill also gives tax breaks for corporate donations, allows tax-free donations from Individual Retirement Accounts and encourages banks to offer Individual Development Accounts, which match the savings of low-income people.
It provides $150 million for a new fund to help small charities, including religious groups, expand their programs.
Yesterday’s vote came after more than two years of sometimes angry debate in Congress about the role of religious groups using tax dollars.