WACO, Texas (AP) - President Bush brushed aside doubts about the legality of his effort to expand federal funding for religious charities, saying Wednesday that critics should focus instead on potential results.
`There's great debate in Washington about the process, the legalities of the initiative,'' Bush said after banging nails at a home being built by Habitat for Humanity. ``What my administration talks about is the results of the initiative.''
Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization that has a partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Bush's ``charitable choice'' initiative would allow religious institutions to compete for a share of the social-services money that the government distributes. The proposal has drawn criticism from some who say it would violate the Constitution's required separation of church and state. It has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.
``As far as I'm concerned, the federal government will be a welcoming agency, will put money up to allow faith-based programs to compete side by side with secular programs,'' Bush said.
On the fourth day of his monthlong vacation here, Bush ventured to Waco, a half-hour from his ranch, for the house construction project. It was part of Habitat for Humanity's ``World Leaders Build.'' The heads of more than 25 countries are participating around the globe.
Bush cut his index finger when it was caught between two boards. ``I spilled a little blood on behalf of the family,'' he said, with a nod and a smile to homeowner-to-be Gladys Evans.
Bush bowed his head as Pastor Joe Carbajal thanked God ``for a president that's willing to stand up and declare biblical principles on a daily basis for our nation.''
Nearby, a protester chanted, ``Jail to the thief,'' a reference to last November's disputed election.
The visit marked the official opening day of what Bush has dubbed a ``Home to the Heartland Tour'' meant to highlight American values. Bush's actual first trip off the ranch, on Tuesday, was to a Waco country club where he played golf.
``I've told the people of the nation's capital there that I was coming back to the heartland to herald the values of the heartland, the values that make America so different and so unique,'' Bush said.
``One of those values is neighbors helping neighbors,'' he said.
And part of the American dream, he said, is home ownership. ``Owning something is what America is all about,'' he said.
Bush and his wife munched on cheeseburgers with a selected group of farmers and other residents at a cafe near his Crawford, Texas, ranch. His Texas accent grew thicker as he discussed federal agriculture aid for the local farmers.
Shunning presidential pomp, Bush traveled in a black sport utility vehicle, rather than in his customary presidential limousine.
A USA Today poll published this week showed most Americans think his month at what he described Wednesday as ``our little slice of heaven'' is too long away from the White House, but Bush rejected the notion.
``They don't understand the definition of work, then,'' he said. ``I'm getting a lot done. Secondly, you don't have to be in Washington to work - it's amazing what can happen with telephones and faxes.''
His love for Texas, he said, ``is just me. And people are going to have to get used to it.''