July 02, MILWAUKEE (AP) - President Bush pressed lawmakers to approve his proposals for revamping welfare and bringing religious groups into the social-services network Tuesday, seeking to jump-start two key initiatives bogged down on Capitol Hill.

Bush also offered fresh praise for school voucher programs as he visited Milwaukee, one of just three places where such programs operate. The others are in Cleveland, where Bush visited Monday, and Florida.

``I am so appreciative of what Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee has done in terms of providing choice - you call it whatever you want to call it, vouchers, choice, whatever it is. Freedom for parents is what I call it,'' Bush said.

Bush visited the Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ Tuesday to boost his church-based proposal and the welfare changes. The trip was his sixth to Wisconsin, a state he lost narrowly to Al Gore.

Bush wants to open government aid programs to religious groups. The Republican-controlled House last summer passed legislation opening 10 new government programs to such groups, as long as participants could opt out of the religious parts.

The Senate Finance Committee last month approved a measure that stripped out key provisions but would give new tax breaks for donating to charity, including religious groups and other causes. The legislation would give people who do not itemize deductions a tax break for donations to charity beyond $250 in any one year, up to $500.

Bush cast the issue as a matter of removing government barriers that he said bar religious groups from helping the needy with taxpayer money.

``The federal government should not ask, 'Does your organization believe in God,''' Bush said. ``They ought to ask, 'Does your program work, are you saving lives, are you making a difference in people's lives?'''

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer would not say whether Bush would sign the bill that cleared the Senate Finance Committee.

Bush linked the religious-charity message with one on overhauling welfare.

As Congress debates how to renew the landmark 1996 welfare law, and how to require work of recipients, Bush seeks a blend of stiff work requirements and pro-marriage initiatives.

The government, he said, must ``insist upon work, then help people who need help finding a job, either training or job placement.''

Before they can renew the landmark welfare law this year, lawmakers have to bridge a huge gulf between versions moving through the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee approved a new welfare proposal that would spend $5.5 billion to help working parents pay for child care, $1.8 billion more than a House version of the bill passed last month and $1 billion more than the current law.

Besides child care funding, the House and Senate differ over how much welfare recipients would be required to work to receive government aid. The House bill would require people to work 40 hours a week, 10 more than current law. The Senate bill calls for 30 hours a week, and some Democrats are demanding even less.

In a rare area of agreement, both the House and Senate bills include $200 million to promote marriage among welfare recipients.

The White House approves of the House bill, but sharply criticized the version circulating in the Senate.

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