After days of wrangling, the House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday that allows the government to expand its funding of faith-based groups that deliver social services, the New York Times reports.
The legislation, a scaled-down version of President Bush's original plan, passed by a party-line vote of 233 to 198, with the Republican leadership thwarting a strong challenge from Democrats and moderate Republicans concerned by the civil rights implications of the bill.
Not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans expressed strikingly different opinions of the legislation. Rep. J.C. Watts, Jr. (R-OK), who led the floor fight for the Republican side and won the votes of a number of key moderates with a promise to "address their concerns" in conference, argued that "Nothing in this bill changes civil rights laws. We should work with religious groups not against them."
But Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC) challenged that view. "This is not a debate about government versus God," said Watt. "I am appalled to be debating whether we will allow religions to discriminate in order to deliver social services. If you strike the offensive provision from this bill, then we would have almost unanimous support for [it]."
The legislation's prospects in the Senate, where Democratic leaders have expressed reservations about the bill in its current form, are uncertain.