Thursday, November 10, 2005

A House of partisan carrots and sticks

"A wide range of religious and political leaders expressed outrage over House leaders' last-minute alterations to an affordable-housing bill they say discriminate against religious groups.

"The House passed a bill that would exclude many religious groups from a government-subsidized housing program—even though the move contradicts President Bush's efforts to make it easier for religious groups to get government funds for social services.

"The Federal Housing Finance Reform Act, H.R. 1461, passed 331-90. But that was after the amendment that would effectively exclude many religious groups passed by a much narrower margin, 210-205.

"The amendment vote fell mostly along party lines, with the vast majority of Republicans voting for it and all but two Democrats voting against it." ...

"The bill is designed to reform the federally chartered home-loan corporations Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae after a series of accounting and regulatory scandals at the organizations. It had emerged from the House Financial Services Committee in May, on a 65-5 vote, with a provision dedicating 5 percent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s after-tax profits to a fund that would give grants to organizations building affordable housing.

"But the most conservative Republicans in the GOP-dominated House—a group calling itself the Republican Study Committee—objected to the housing fund as too loosely managed, fearing that groups with left-leaning political agendas that do voter-registration or get-out-the vote work could receive funds for housing projects—thus freeing up their own funds for more voter work.

"The Republican Study Committee members got the House leadership to ensure that the bill would not come to the floor without significant restrictions that would essentially prohibit non-profit grant recipients from engaging in any voter-registration or voter education. It also included a provision that required any non-profit receiving a grant from the fund to have housing as its 'primary purpose.'

"A wide array of religious leaders objected, saying those provisions would effectively ban their participation. They ranged from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Episcopal Church to the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

"'The primary purpose of faith-based organizations is faith,' said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking minority member of the Financial Services Committee.

"They also objected to the bans on voting-related activity, noting that many religious organizations conduct non-partisan voter registration and education activities as part of their work and consider being responsible citizens an integral part of their ministry.

"Supporters of the amendment argued that it was necessary to keep politically activist organizations from subsidies."

"Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said it is ironic that many of the same Republican Study Committee members who are the strongest supporters of government funds to religious groups in other contexts took a different tack when it came to affordable-housing ministries.

"'Despite the divisiveness of the term "faith-based," most Americans are united in their support of religious organizations,' he said. 'That's why it's surprising that the Republicans are using an otherwise worthy effort to reform government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to throw a wrench in the relationship between government and the religious community.'"

The hypocrisy here is thick on both sides.

While the Republicans of 1994 and of limited government would probably rather not have Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae at all, if they must, then the Republicans of 2000, 2002 and of George W. Bush would at least want to open it up to faith-based groups. I tend to prefer the former over the latter.

But just as hypocritical is the Democrats voting against this amendment—a vote in favor of faith-based groups. They have been fighting Bush's faith-based initiative since it arrived in Washington; but now, suddenly when a bunch of Republicans are fighting it, they support it.

This amendment prohibits granting any funds to a non-profit that has "engaged in federal election activity, electioneering communication, or lobbying." That would include non-partisan voter registration and education activities. RSC didn't intend to target faith-based groups, but the groups that cater to those that live in low-income housing.

Unfortunately for both sides, both fall into the same legal category.

Basically, the Democrats oppose funding non-profit groups that are likely to support people that will vote against them (faith-based groups), and the Republicans oppose funding non-profit groups that are likely to support people that will vote against them (low-income individuals that live in affording housing).

What we have is a lack of operations based on principles—principles that apply to everyone, all sides in the debate. The principles should be based on: What's in the best interest of the country? What's in the best interest of non-profits? Should federal funds be used, and if so, how?

The principles should not be based on partisanship or politics. Federal spending should not be based on the demographics of the money's geographic destination. Policies should never be based on the political future of the ones pushing the policies.

Just as we've seen with the so-called campaign finance "reform," it's not really about reform or protecting the country, it's about careerism and protecting one's political future. Our leaders are leaning on their own understanding and not living by faith.

To fix this isn't a matter of Republican vs. Democrat; it's incumbants vs. the people. As Tom Coburn said, "Do you realize there's hundreds of thousands of people in this country that can do a better job in the Congress than the Congress that's sitting today?"

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