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Bush treading on dangerous ground with faith-based charity idea

By Scott Tibbs, February 21, 2001

President George W. Bush is advocating the idea of sending federal tax dollars to faith-based charities instead of traditional government-run programs, in an effort to make sure those who need financial assistance receive the help they need, help they do not receive from a government bureaucracy.

On the surface this looks like a good idea. Private charities are much more efficient with their money and effective in their methods than government-run bureaucracies are.

But by giving taxpayer dollars to faith-based charities, Republicans are playing a dangerous game that will hamper the effectiveness of those charities and potentially cause severe damage to their own political future.

It's been established over and over that when government gives money to something, it attaches strings to that money. One college where students benefited from federally subsidized student loans was told that they had to abide by all federal regulations. Even though the loans were actually provided by private banks to students and the federal government only guaranteed the loans, that indirect connection was enough justification for the courts to force the college to abide by all federal regulations. This despite the fact that the federally subsidized loans were the ONLY connection to the federal government: the college received no other federal funds.

President Bush's proposal has already shown to be dangerous in this regard on a smaller scale. In San Francisco, Catholic charities receiving aid from the city were told that if they did not provide equal hiring opportunities to homosexuals, they would not receive any more funding. The churches were forced to make a decision to give up their funding or to compromise their principles. Were Bush's proposal to be implemented nationally, we would see more and more charities' facing the dilemma of principles versus funding as the federal government imposes its way of doing things on them. Charities would also divert funding that would have gone to help the poor to lobbying the government for more and more funding, diluting their effectiveness.

Politically, this is a very dangerous move for the Republican Party. The GOP would be taking it's most committed activist base, religious conservatives, and addicting them to the narcotic of federal money. For a party founded on the idea of limited government, this could be devastating. What happens when Republicans want to cut government spending, or even reduce the rate of growth in spending? The GOP's most loyal followers would then have to choose between voting Democrat to keep their funding or voting their conscience on social issues. Clearly, giving your base an incentive to vote for the other party is political suicide.

The dangers of this proposal don't just apply to poor relief, though. Private schools face the very same problems if parents are given vouchers so government funding can go to the institution where parents choose to send their kids. School choice is important and competition would greatly improve America's educational system, but vouchers would not be a solution if private schools are forced to implement a Leftist social agenda in their classrooms.

A better way to shift the burden of poor relief from government programs to private charities is to cut taxes. Give the money back to the people, and let them fund the charity of their choice. As was seen in the 1980's, charitable giving skyrocketed when Ronald Reagan cut marginal tax rates, as U.S. Representative John N. Hostettler (R-IN) pointed out in a speech on February 20.

President Bush is to be applauded for thinking outside the box that Washington finds itself trapped in. But this proposal isn't the proper way to improve delivery of aid to the poor, and could potentially make things worse. But with a tax cut, everybody wins.