The setting was chosen carefully. After weeks spent focusing on issuessuch as tax cuts and energy policy, the president is aiming to rallypublic support for his "faith-based" initiative.
The initiative would let churches, synagogues and mosques compete forbillions of dollars in federal money to provide social services to thepoor. Those services range from aid to pregnant teens to helping thehomeless. Some religious groups do this work now indirectly throughnon-profit organizations.
Bush referred to South Bend's Center for the Homeless and said there'sonly one problem with such services: "There are not enough of them." Bush said the nation must build on Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, aterm given to the social programs that the Texas Democrat pushed forwhile president. Bush also commended another Democratic formerpresident, his predecessor.
"Work and self-respect have been returned to many lives," Bush said."This is a tribute to the Democrats and Republicans who agreed on(welfare) reform, and to the president who signed it: President BillClinton."
Bush's faith-based program has stalled in Congress after coming underfire from the political left and right. Liberals have complained that itwould blur the line between separation of church and state.Conservatives are worried it would require too much governmentintervention in religious organizations.
"We have had enough of the stale debate between big government andindifferent government," Bush said. "Government must be active enoughto fund services for the poor, and humble enough to let good people inlocal communities provide those services."
Bush also urged corporate America to increase charitable donations tofaith-based programs.