Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Shevat 5761 - January 31, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Bush Planning to Channel U.S. Government Money Through Religious Groups
A Lot of Action in First Two Weeks in Office

by M. Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

President Bush moved to establish a White House office that he hoped would distribute billions of dollars through religious groups and charities over the next 10 years. The U.S. president wants to let such groups administer taxpayer money to provide after-school programs, prison ministries and drug treatment, among other things. Critics say using public money for such programs could violate the wall between church and state that is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Up to now such programs have been administered only by secular nonprofit organizations.

Another key element of Bush's approach is expanding tax deductions for charitable donations. He wants to make such donations tax deductible even for those who do not itemize deductions, encouraging many more people to give to charity.

Mr. Bush announced on Monday that he has settled on University of Pennsylvania political science professor John J. DiIulio Jr. to head a new White House office and that former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith will chair a new advisory board whose work will complement the new White House office. Bush is Protestant, DiIulio is Catholic and Goldsmith is Jewish.

Some churches are wary of government money that might come with strings attached and other critics have come out strongly against the approach.

Bush said religious groups must be part of the solution to society's ills. "A compassionate society is one which recognizes the great power of faith," Bush said last week. "We in government must not fear faith-based programs, we must welcome faith-based programs."

In other areas, Bush also was trying to formulate a long- range national energy policy. Aides said California's power crisis was certain to be at the center of the discussion among Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

Bush has said the California crunch is a state problem, not a federal one. But by participating publicly in the meeting, he signaled it is moving up on his agenda.

On Sunday, Cheney again hinted that the administration would explore easing environmental regulations that have hindered building new power generators. Bush also was dispatching top energy officials to meet with governors of Western states affected by the crunch.

On his fourth day in office, the new president sent a major initiative on education to Congress, an area where he has both expertise and strong support for change.

On Monday, Bush unveiled his plan to provide prescription drugs to seniors through the Medicare program. Bush, borrowing elements of a congressional Republican plan, pledged to revamp the entire Medicare program, giving senior citizens a choice of health plans, including some that offer drug coverage.

But Bush said this overhaul would not take effect for four years. In the meantime, he would give states money to help low-income seniors pay for drugs. Mr. Bush said his proposal provides access to drug coverage for 9.5 million of the most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries, until Congress approves fundamental changes in Medicare. This is about a quarter of all Medicare beneficiaries.

Critics question the wisdom of creating a new web of programs that may disappear four years later. They also argue that once created, the grants would be hard to stop after four years.

The encouragement and government financing of faith-based programs was a major campaign issue for Mr. Bush, who has said he reads the Bible every day. And the decision to entrust the new federal office in charge of that effort to Mr. DiIulio, a widely published expert on juvenile crime with impressive academic credentials, is an example of the political caution with which the Bush administration will proceed.

Mr. DiIulio will head the new White House Office of Faith- Based and Community Initiatives, which will serve as a liaison to nonprofit groups and identify exemplary programs that can serve as national models. Mr. Bush also established centers at the Departments of Justice, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development to ensure that they cooperate with religious and secular nonprofit organizations.

In addition to Mr. DiIulio, the other central figure in the effort is Stephen Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis who was the chief domestic policy adviser for Mr. Bush's presidential campaign.

Several Bush advisers said Mr. Goldsmith would be the chairman of a new national advisory board, called the Corporation for National Service, whose work will complement that of the new federal office. Mr. Goldsmith will also serve as an official adviser to Mr. Bush on the issue.

"It is about faith-based institutions, but it's also about more than that," said another Bush adviser, referring to Mr. Bush's plan to encourage all kinds of private groups to administer more of the kinds of local programs often provided by government.

A more thorough integration of faith-based and other not-for- profit groups into federally financed social services is a cornerstone of compassionate conservatism, a political philosophy with which Mr. Bush has strongly identified himself.

Compassionate conservatism holds that while the government should limit the scope of the social services it provides, it should take an active role as a catalyst and source of financing for work done by neighborhood and religious groups.

Mr. Bush has said some of the groups with the best results for rehabilitating prisoners or fighting drug abuse are ones that take religious and spiritual approaches. He has also said the government should not hesitate to give money to these groups, as long as secular groups that provide similar services are also available.

Mr. DiIulio is a fellow at both the Manhattan Institute, which is a conservative think tank, and the Brookings Institute, which is not. He identifies himself as a new Democrat.

Mr. DiIulio has also done extensive work with black pastors in urban areas, and one of the Bush administration's hopes is that its advocacy of faith-based programs will be a bridge to black ministers and win some support with the Congressional Black Caucus.

Mr. Bush garnered the support of about 9 percent of black voters in the presidential election and has been reaching out aggressively to African-Americans ever since.

For his work with churches, Mr. Goldsmith, a Republican, was lauded by many evangelical Christian leaders. But some Jewish leaders said they were nervous about an approach that redirects tax dollars to churches.


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