Bush, Lieberman Promote Faith-Based Programs

Jan. 30, 2001 -- President Bush teamed up today with erstwhile political rival Sen. Joseph Lieberman today, continuing his push to provide federal aid to religious-based charities.

With Lieberman standing at his side this afternoon, Bush announced he was formally submiting a legislative proposal to Congress calling for government funds to be used for faith-based social programs.

"I'm sending to Congress a set of ideas and proposals that mark a hopeful new direction for our government," Bush told reporters at The Fishing School, a Washington program known for its after-school mentoring. "We will encourage community and faith-based programs without changing their mission."

$24 Billion over 10 Years

Bush's proposal would create $24 billion in new tax deductions and federal grants for charitable institutions over a 10-year period.

Some of that money would fund what Bush called a "compassionate capital fund" to set up education projects or social services, while other resources would be set aside for mentoring activities. Bush also aims to use federal funds for church-run after-school programs.

"I've seen how effective and committed these groups are at saving andchanging lives," Bush added.

Bush's plan includes a $500-per-person tax credit for charitable contributions, and a charity deduction for taxpayers who do not itemize their returns.

The president expressed a willingness to discuss changes or modifications in his proposal, saying he was "open to any good ideas that will come from the Congress" about the church-run social programs.

Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000, made history as the first Jewish candidate to be on a major-party presidential ticket.

Lieberman did not speak at today's event, but has frequently commented on the importance of religion in civic life, to the point of drawing criticism from groups concerned about the encroachment of religion on political affairs.

And for the second straight day, Bush emphasized his claim that the initiative would not blur the constitutional distinction between church and state.

"Government, of course, cannot fund and will not fund religiousactivities," the president said. "But when people of faith provide social services, we will not discriminate against them."

The formal announcement of Bush's plan comes a day after the president signed a pair of executive orders intended to help funnel government funds to religious social programs.

One order created a new White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives to promote cooperation between the federal government and religious service providers, and the other directs five Cabinet-level departments — Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Justice and Education — to establish similar offices.

With representatives from some three dozen religious and secular charitable organizations standing behind him, Bush outlined his plan to allow religious community groups to compete on an equal basis for government funding to provide alcohol and drug abuse treatment, housing, job-training and other services.

Critics: Church-State Separation At Risk

As the president tries to walk the constitutional line separating church and state, alarmed civil libertarians and some representatives of minority religions say Bush's initiative has crossed it.

"We see this as one of the biggest threats to separation of church and state in modern history," says Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United For Separation of Church and State. "You simply cannot funnel billions of tax dollars to houses of worship and not find yourself in violation of the First Amendment."

Though Bush's plan is certain to be hotly debated on Capitol Hill, some moderate Democratic lawmakers signaled their support for the president's approach.

"I think it can be done and done successfully in ways that help the rest of society," Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana said on CNN on Monday. "And I think the president will find broad common ground, bipartisan support for his initiative, if he does it right."

Bush made greater government assistance to faith-based organizations a major theme of his presidential campaign. Former Vice President Al Gore — Bush's general election opponent — as well as former President Clinton have called for greater cooperation between religious groups and the federal government.

ABCNEWS' Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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