President Urges War on Poverty At Notre Dame, Bush Touts Faith Plan

by Mike Allen

NOTRE DAME, Ind., May 20— President Bush called today for a new war on poverty, to be waged largely through the nation’s houses of worship, and said his plan to encourage government funding of social services by churches is an urgently needed successor to the public welfare of the past generation.p. Bush used his first commencement address to tell graduates at the University of Notre Dame, 85 percent of them Roman Catholic, that government will never be replaced by charities, but must “do more to take the side of charities and community healers, and support their work.”p. “Welfare as we knew it has ended, but poverty has not,” Bush said in the domed field house of the Fighting Irish. “America has a long tradition of accommodating and encouraging religious institutions when they pursue public goals. My administration did not create that tradition, but we will expand it to confront some urgent problems.”p. Bush called his plan “the third stage of combating poverty in America.” He said the first was the war on poverty President Lyndon B. Johnson declared in 1964, which resulted in Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start. The second, he said, was the welfare reform of 1996, which cut the nation’s welfare rolls from a peak of 14.2 million in 1994 to 5.8 million last year by requiring work in return for time-limited benefits.p. Bush, wearing a royal blue academic robe but forgoing a mortarboard cap, said the Great Society programs had “noble intentions and some enduring successes.” He said the welfare reform bill has returned self-respect to many lives, and he drew applause when he saluted “the president who signed it, President Bill Clinton.”p. “The easy cases have already left the welfare rolls; the hardest problems remain,” Bush said. “We do not yet know what will happen to these men and women, or to their children. But we cannot sit and watch, leaving them to their own struggles and their own fate.”p. As Johnson argued that a prosperous nation had a duty to overcome racial and economic divisions, Bush spoke of “our nation’s commitment to the poor” and noted that much of today’s poverty “has more to do with troubled lives than a troubled economy.”p. The address constituted Bush’s first detailed response to critics who have pummeled him from the left and, to his surprise and dismay, from the right in the three months since he released his long-promised “faith-based initiative.” It encourages churches, mosques and neighborhood charities to seek government contracts to help homeless people, drug addicts and others in need.p. The president initially had seemed unmoved by opponents of his faith-based agenda, declaring in March that he could accomplish his goals “without offending the process-oriented people who worry about church and state.”p. But in addition to the expected complaints of liberals, several leading religious conservatives quickly expressed deep reservations about the plan. They said they worry about the strings that might come attached to the money, about the fringe or non-Christian groups that might qualify for funds and about the corruption or bureaucratic bloat the program could bring to church organizations.p. With the faith-based legislation moving much more slowly on Capitol Hill than the administration had hoped, Bush said government “should never fund the teaching of faith, but it should support the good works of the faithful.” Bush noted that organizations like Catholic Charities already receive government funding.p. “Do the critics really want to cut them off?” Bush asked. “Medicaid and Medicare money currently goes to religious hospitals. Should this practice be ended? Child-care vouchers for low-income families are redeemed every day at houses of worship across America. Should this be prevented? Government loans send countless students to religious colleges. Should that be banned?”p. “Of course not,” he said, his voice rising to meet the cheers. “A determined assault on poverty will require both an active government and active citizens.”p. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, credited Bush for acknowledging his critics. But he said the president had not addressed their concern that his plan allows organizations to use private money to proselytize their clients as long as the public money goes only to social services.p. “The president still does not seem to understand that under the Constitution, you cannot turn over to churches the social services system of the United States,” Lynn said. “His plan would let churches use public funds as a lure to people they would then seek to convert.”p. A Catholic adviser to Bush, Robert P. George of Princeton University, said after watching the speech that it showed Bush is heading away from the Republican Party’s libertarian focus under President Ronald Reagan and toward the social consciousness that is a part of Catholic doctrine. Bush said, “We believe in social mobility, not social Darwinism.”p. George, a constitutional lawyer, also said it was significant that Bush stuck to his conviction that faith-based groups, as he said today, “should not suffer discrimination when they compete for contracts to provide social services.” George said that in the hail of criticism, Bush has faced many people who thought he “would step back and only push the parts of the plan that everyone agreed on.” Those parts include Bush’s effort to promote philanthropy by expanding the federal charitable deduction to taxpayers who do not itemize.p. Bush also called on business to help alleviate poverty, including by donating to religious groups. “The federal government will not discriminate against faith-based organizations, and neither should corporate America,” he said.p. Bush has courted Catholic voters continually since losing that voting group to Vice President Al Gore by 3 percentage points in the November election. He also is continuing his penance for a primary campaign speech at Bob Jones University. The school carried an article on its Web site referring to the Roman Catholic Church as a cult, “a satanic counterfeit” and the “Mother of Harlots.”p. The president invoked Mother Teresa and laced Catholic rhetoric throughout his address at Notre Dame, where Mass is celebrated in each dorm and the 132-foot-high mosaic known as “Touchdown Jesus” keeps watch over the football stadium from the library. Bush, a United Methodist who talks unabashedly about how his conversion to Christianity in 1985 helped tame his wild life, said Notre Dame “calls on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic, to honor the family, to protect life in all its stages, to serve and uplift the poor.”p. Bush’s citation for honorary doctor of laws called him “a straightforward, faith-based Texan.”p. Michael Newhouse, a theology major whose mortarboard was emblazoned with a lone star and “Irish-Texan,” said he and other members of his parish were at first excited about Bush’s plan but have become skeptical. “It’s great that people are talking about faith,” Newhouse said. “But once funding comes, stipulations follow.”p. Reagan also chose Notre Dame for his first commencement address. Bush had visited Notre Dame three times before— twice for football games and once to speak for his father’s unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign at the university’s Mock Republican Convention. Today, he joked, “I really won the crowd that day. In fact, I’m sure of it, because all six of them walked me to my car.”p. Bush announced he will convene a summit at the White House this fall to ask corporate and philanthropic leaders from throughout America “to discuss ways they can provide more support to community organizations, both secular and religious.” He also said he is adding two prongs to his faith-based agenda. He said he plans to triple his request for federal funding for groups such as Habitat for Humanity, which promote home ownership for low-income people, from $25 million in 2002 to $75 million in 2003. He also said he will work to increase the drug-treatment funding going to faith-based and community groups.p. “The methods of the past may have been flawed,” Bush told the 2,500 graduates. “But the idealism of the past was not an illusion.”

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