CHN: Senate Passes Pared Down Faith-Based Legislation

Measure Will Likely Face Further Editing in the House
On Wednesday, April 9, the Senate passed a slimmed-down version of President Bush’s “faith-based initiative” (S 476) by a vote of 95-5. The measure, a centerpiece of Bush’s social policy agenda, is intended to boost incentives for charitable donations and increase funding for religious groups that provide social services. The bill originally included a provision that opponents argue would have allowed faith-based groups to proselytize or discriminate in hiring based on a candidate’s religion while running federally funded programs. Bill sponsor Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) removed this controversial provision in order to ensure bipartisan support, claiming that there are other vehicles for the provision, including the upcoming reauthorization of welfare.

The bill calls for $12.7 billion in new tax breaks to increase charitable giving by corporations, with a relatively small portion of the money intended for additional spending on social service expansion. The bill would also allow taxpayers who do not itemize to take deductions for charitable donations and to make tax-free donations from individual retirement accounts (IRAs) for a two-year trial period. While proponents of the provision contend that increased federal tax deductions will boost charitable donations, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) claims that additional deductions will not stimulate increased giving, but rather reward taxpayers for their current behavior.

The Senate merged another measure (S 272) into the faith-based bill that authorizes $1.4 billion for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and additional funds for technical assistance to small religious groups that do not have the resources to compete for federal grants. Santorum included the extra funding in an attempt to attract more Democratic support for the measure. House GOP leaders have pledged that their chamber’s companion legislation will strictly be a tax bill and will not include the SSBG money included in the Senate bill. The House will not introduce its faith-based legislation until after the upcoming two-week spring recess.

Social Services