In a victory for President Bush, the House of Representatives voted 233-198 Thursday to expand federal support for religious groups that perform social services.
However, the House debate exposed deep discomfort in both parties about the program's potential for rolling back anti-discrimination terms in state and local civil rights laws. Opponents said the measure could mean religious groups would get federal subsidies even if, when hiring, they discriminate against Jews, African-Americans, women, the disabled, homosexuals and others.
The White House helped the House GOP leadership quell a one-day rebellion by GOP moderates, who joined Democrats on Wednesday to insist that the measure be changed to prevent such discrimination.
In the end, the GOP moderates were mollified by their leaders' promise to ensure that no such discrimination would be permitted when the final terms are drafted in a House-Senate conference.
But the House debate foreshadowed problems the legislation will face in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Thursday that he has "serious misgivings" about the measure. The South Dakota Democrat said he might not let the bill come to the Senate floor for a vote until next year.
The bill would allow religious groups to compete for federal funds to run a host of social services, including housing aid, after-school activities, job training, services for senior citizens, counseling and drug treatment.
It also provides modest tax breaks to encourage more charitable giving by the 84-million Americans who do not itemize on their taxes. They would be permitted to deduct $25 in donations annually, rising to $100 by the end of the decade.
HOW FLORIDA VOTED: Democrats _ Boyd, N; Brown, N; Davis, N; Deutsch, N; Hastings, N; Meek, N; Thurman, N; Wexler, N. Republicans _ Bilirakis, Y; Crenshaw, Y; Diaz-Balart, Y; Foley, Y; Goss, Y; Keller, Y; Mica, Y; Miller, Y; Putnam, Y; Ros-Lehtinen, Y; Scarborough, Y; Shaw, Y; Stearns, Y; Weldon, Y; Young, Y.