Bush wrote Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., on Wednesday (Nov. 7), urging them to pass his bill by the end of the year and give aid to charities, which have been "suffering" since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. "America's charities have stood by America," Bush said. "It is now time for America to stand by her charities, as they suffer from the economic consequences of Sept. 11."
The president's bill, which would provide federal money to religious groups and charities in exchange for social services, passed the House last summer but is bogged down in the Senate. Democrats are concerned that religious groups would be able to use federal money to discriminate in hiring and providing services, and appear unwilling to tackle the issue.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., are working on a compromise bill that would address Democratic concerns. Some would like to see a less controversial provision--which was also passed by the House--separated; it would allow taxpayers to donate more to charity and increase giving incentives for companies. Bush said he wants to see both.
Religious and civil liberties groups, however, urged caution. A coalition of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Jain groups wrote Bush, saying now is not the time to take up a divisive bill. In addition, minority faiths that have come under attack since the Sept. 11 events "would only be further ostracized in the funding and selection process due to misinformation, false stereotyping and retaliation," the groups said in a letter spearheaded by the Interfaith Alliance.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a leading critic of the Bush plan, said he supports increased charitable giving, but not federally funded religion. "In a time when we are trying to bring all Americans together, this approach couldn't be more misguided," Lynn said.