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Bush Plays Compassion Card

GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush, issuing a call to arms for America's "armies of compassion," has unveiled plans that would enlist charities, community groups and religious organizations to help government deliver social services.

The Texas governor promised that, if elected, he would dedicate $8 billion during his first year in the White House for tax credits and grants as part of what he calls "a bold new approach" to governing.

The money would be used to encourage Americans to give more to charity and increase the role of faith-based organizations in the fight to reduce poverty, welfare rolls, criminal activity and other social problems.

"Government cannot be replaced by charities. I know that, you know that. But it can welcome them as partners, not resent them as rivals," Bush said in a speech delivered at a church in Indianapolis.

"We will rally the armies of compassion in our communities to fight a very different war against poverty and hopelessness - a daily battle waged house to house and heart by heart," he said.

To increase charitable giving, Bush wants to allow taxpayers who do not itemize deductions to be able to deduct their donations to charity. He says 70 percent of taxpayers cannot claim charitable donations currently.

"We will give the people who don't itemize the same treatment and incentives as people who do - rewarding and encouraging giving by everyone in our society, not just the wealthy," Bush said.

Another proposal would encourage states to give tax credits to people who donate to charities that address poverty and other specific social ills.

To help government solve society's toughest problems, Bush is proposing several items to get faith-based organizations, community groups and charities involved. The cornerstone initiative would offer grants to groups, including ministries that offer services to children whose parents are in prison.

Bush said the prison population is exploding as tough crime laws are enforced. The crackdown is good, he said, but it has left 1.2 million children with one or more parents in prison. "They should not be punished for the sins of their fathers," Bush said.

He also promises to change laws that hinder the abilities of non-government groups to provide social services.

A breakdown of the costs of individual initiatives was not immediately available.

Bush offers the proposals, an extension of programs he embraced in Texas, as an example of his political philosophy that seeks to promote conservative principles without hurting the poor or alienating moderate voters. Democratic and Republican rivals have scoffed at this "compassionate conservative" brand of politics.

Republicans historically have championed the role of faith-based organizations and American volunteerism in meeting the social needs of the disadvantaged. Ronald Reagan pointedly urged this trategy at a time when his administration was under harsh criticism for sharp cuts in social spending.

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