The setting was chosen carefully. After weeks spent focusing on issues such as tax cuts and energy policy, the president is aiming to rally public support for his "faith-based" initiative.
The initiative would let churches, synagogues and mosques compete for billions of dollars in federal money to provide social services to the poor. Those services range from aid to pregnant teens to helping the homeless. Some religious groups do this work now indirectly through non-profit organizations.
Bush referred to South Bend's Center for the Homeless and said there's only one problem with such services: "There are not enough of them." Bush said the nation must build on Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, a term given to the social programs that the Texas Democrat pushed for while president. Bush also commended another Democratic former president, 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 Bill Clinton."
Bush's faith-based program has stalled in Congress after coming under fire from the political left and right. Liberals have complained that it would blur the line between separation of church and state. Conservatives are worried it would require too much government intervention in religious organizations.
"We have had enough of the stale debate between big government and indifferent government," Bush said. "Government must be active enough to fund services for the poor, and humble enough to let good people in local communities provide those services."
Bush also urged corporate America to increase charitable donations to faith-based programs.