Saturday, March 05, 2005

What happened to 'compassionate conservatism?'

Most of us know by now it was just lip service Bush gave when he talked about being a compassionate conservative.

But U.S. Senator Rick Santorum is (how can I charitably put this?) slower than most of us.

Give Sen. Rick Santorum credit for persistence: The Pennsylvania Republican soldiers on with President Bush's "compassion" agenda even when Bush himself retreats.

In his speech Tuesday about his efforts to help the poor, Bush made no mention of what was once the cornerstone of his "compassionate conservatism" -- an $85 billion tax break to spur charitable giving. This was no oversight: Bush's new budget drops the whole idea.

But there yesterday morning in the Mansfield Room off the Senate floor was the No. 3 Senate Republican, politely disagreeing with his president. "We're going to work on the charitable giving package and try to do the best we can," said Santorum, who aides say would spend about $25 billion on the program Bush has dropped.

Likewise, Santorum disagreed with Bush's plan for a $2 billion, 35 percent cut in Community Development Block Grants. "I don't support the dramatic reduction of the program," the senator said, surrounded by leaders of religious charities assembled in front of a "Fighting Poverty" backdrop.

Santorum's courage won him the immediate and predictable ridicule of Democrats. At a news conference two hours later by Senate opposition leaders, Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) huffed that "Republicans got moxie" to claim they care about the poor. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) tried to one-up Santorum by calling for a vote Thursday on raising the minimum wage.

The Pennsylvanian may have a political motive for outdoing Bush on poverty. He's a deeply conservative figure who is up for reelection next year in a blue state. But he has championed programs to aid the poor by boosting charitable efforts, working with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) on an often lonely legislative battle. And Santorum wouldn't be the first to direct friendly fire at the White House's compassion efforts. Two former officials from Bush's "faith-based" office, John J. DiIulio Jr. and David Kuo, have complained that the White House "never really wanted the 'poor people stuff,' " as Kuo put it recently.

Link to full story here.



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