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7. Champion Compassionate Conservatism

Our Nation has a long and honorable commitment to assisting individuals, families, and communities who have not fully shared in America's prosperity. Yet, despite a multitude of programs and commitments by government at all levels, too many Americans suffer despair and poverty amid our abundance.

  • As many as 15 million young people are at risk of not reaching productive adulthood because of crime, drugs and other problems that make it difficult to obtain an education or a job;

  • About 1.5 million children have a parent in prison;

  • Over half a million children are in foster care, more than one fifth of whom are awaiting adoption;

  • In 1997, more than one million babies were born to unwed mothers, many of them barely past their own teen years; and

  • Nearly one in six families with children live on an annual income of $17,000 or less.

Millions of Americans are enslaved to drugs or alcohol. Many live on the streets. And, despite the success of welfare reform in moving adults into productive work, many families remain dependent on welfare and many who have left the rolls can barely make ends meet.

A great and prosperous Nation can and must do better. Americans are a deeply compassionate people and will not tolerate indifference toward the poor. But, they also want compassionate results, not just compassionate intentions.

Compassionate acts must promote long-term success as well as immediate relief; that is, for change to be lasting, its goal must be self-reliance. Rights and responsibilities are inextricably linked in American life, and all Americans have a great stake in the outcome of any helping act; we share not only a common Nation, but also common humanity itself. We are obligated to care for one another because it is the right thing to do, and this obligation is the moral root of civilization.

Moreover, lasting and profound change in a human life comes most often when care is offered on a personal level by families and by those with a stake in the community, who are motivated by a burden of the heart to improve the lives of those around them.

Compassionate conservatism means providing vigorous and thorough support for those in need, while preserving the dignity of the individual and fostering personal responsibility. It means that caring must be accompanied by more than education and assistance. It must come with encouragement, and an expectation of success. It means that every compassionate effort must extend beyond the temporary amelioration of want toward independence and personal authority.

Government can spend money, but it cannot put hope in our hearts or a sense of purpose in our lives. It is personal, sincere compassion that warms the cold of life, and that hopes for something lasting and better for our fellow man. It is a fundamental American trait to care in this way; it is a quiet river of goodness and kindness that cuts through stone.

The Role of Faith-Based Organizations and Community Groups, and a Different Role for Government

Successful support for those in need can come from many sources, not just Government. In every instance where this Administration sees a responsibility to help people, it will look first to faith-based organizations, charities, and community groups that have shown the ability to save and change lives. These neighborhood healers will not replace Government, but partner with it to make life better for those in need.

With this budget, the President commits our Nation to mobilizing the armies of compassion—charities and churches, communities and corporations, ministers and mentors—to transform lives. These groups are proving that real change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. Moreover, these faith-based and community organizations will be permitted to compete for Federal funds as long as secular alternatives are also available. Faith-based organizations can maintain their religious characteristics, but the Federal Government cannot fund inherently religious activities.

Resources are to be devolved, not just to the States, but to the neighborhood healers who need them most. Resources shall be available on a competitive basis to all organizations—including religious ones—that produce results. This is the next bold step of welfare reform.

A Determined Attack on Need

The President believes that there is a growing gap of hope in our country that threatens the very fabric of our society. Therefore, this Administration will work to provide an equal opportunity for every American to achieve his or her dream.

Need is great and varied. Some Americans are just off welfare and have entered the work force. They feel the strong pull of the past—and sometimes their only motivation to go on is faith that their hard work will pay off. There are those who live in the shadow of poverty, who are not quite able to share in the prosperity of our times, and who are no more than a paycheck away from ending up back where they started. Some Americans need a fresh start out of difficult circumstances. Some need a second chance. Some need a small measure of extra support to make ends meet. Some need support in helping their children avoid the temptations and dangers in our society. And some are already in the grip of drugs and violence.

This Administration cannot and will not give up on any American who needs our help. The President, therefore, proposes a multi-faceted attack on need, including initiatives to:

  • Create a Compassion Capital Fund to invest in charitable best practices;

  • Open Federal after-school programs to community groups, churches and charities;

  • Launch a new pilot program for inmates nearing release, and make Federal funds available on a competitive basis for faith-based pre-release programs at Federal facilities;

  • Make grants available to faith-based and community groups focused on improving the prospects of low-income children of prisoners;

  • Increase drug treatment funding and ensure that faith-based and other non-medical drug treatment programs have equal access to Federal funds;

  • Establish second chance homes for unwed teenage mothers;

  • Promote responsible fatherhood;

  • Make the adoption tax credit permanent and increase it from $5,000 to $7,500; and

  • Expand efforts to help low-income families pay the rent and avoid homelessness.

Given the intransigence of the problems we face and, most importantly, the intrinsic value of every human life, the President proposes dedicating $8 billion to provide new tax incentives for giving, and to support charities and other private institutions that save and change lives.

An Outpouring of Giving

Our national character shines in our compassion; we have always found our better selves in sympathy and generosity. It emerges from our nature as a people.

Americans are truly generous. In 1999, charitable giving totaled $190 billion, an increase of nine percent over the previous year. However, when measured as a percent of gross domestic product, Americans give the same amount today (2.1 percent) as they did in 1971.

To stimulate additional charitable giving by individuals and families, the President proposes initiatives for individuals and families to:

  • Expand the Federal charitable deduction to the 70 percent of all filers who do not itemize;

  • Promote a tax credit against State income or other taxes for contributions to charities addressing poverty, allowing States to designate the targets for this charitable giving and giving States flexibility to offset lost receipts; and

  • Permit charitable contributions from IRAs without penalty, thus ending the disincentive for retirees to contribute to causes aimed at relieving need.

To encourage corporations to be full partners in mobilizing and strengthening charities, the President proposes to:

  • Promote extension of charitable State tax credits to corporations;

  • Raise the cap on corporate charitable deductions; and

  • Provide liability protection for corporate in-kind donations, thus expanding protection of individual volunteers and providers of foodstuffs to also include equipment, facilities, vehicles and other material contributions.

Eliminate Barriers to Faith-Based Action

Social scientists have documented the power of religion to protect families and change lives. Studies indicate that religious involvement reduces teen pregnancy, suicide, drug addiction, abuse, alcoholism, and crime. Similarly, grassroots inner-city outreach ministries have been credited by numerous leading social scientists with playing a major role in helping at-risk youth to avoid violence, achieve literacy, and find jobs.

The President believes that America must stop trying to eliminate poverty, crime, and addiction with one hand tied behind its back. Thus, he is committed to removing barriers to the participation of faith-based groups in Government programs. The President therefore promotes initiatives to:

  • Expand Charitable Choice by making it explicitly applicable to all Federal laws that authorize the Government to use non-governmental entities to provide services to beneficiaries with Federal dollars; and

  • Encourage the establishment of State offices of faith-based action.

By Executive Order, the President has already established an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to identify barriers to such efforts, to serve as a national clearinghouse for information, and to assist faith-based and community groups needing help with regard to Federal action. The President has also created Centers of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Justice, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development to ensure Government is a true partner in supporting faith-based and community organizations.

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