(CNSNews.com) - President Bush's faith-based initiative passed the House by a 233-198 vote despite efforts by opponents to gut the bill.
Bill supporters including the bill's co-sponsors, House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), brushed aside efforts by opponents to paint the bill as an effort to discriminate against homosexuals and members of other groups.
The vote represents a victory for the president's agenda. Deborah DeYoung, special assistant to Hall, said that the congressman would have liked to have seen a more significant bill passed with more Democrats to supporting it.
Conservatives were quick to react to the news.
"The Community Solutions Act provides over $13 billion in tax relief over the next 10 years, offering incentives for charitable contributions by individuals and businesses," said Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) in a written statement. "More importantly, it opens the door to new solutions to the old problems of poverty and addiction."
Barr added," As we have seen in recent years, government can spend billions of dollars, but it cannot put hope into people's hearts or a sense of purpose in their lives. Faith-based organizations that have shown the ability to save and change lives, must be given the opportunity to compete for federal funds and expand their good works."
The congressman said, "This is an idea whose time has come," and urged the Senate to "act quickly on this important legislation."
Watts, the bill's co-sponsor, had a message for those who criticized the bill for allegedly violating the constitutional amendment against the establishment of religion.
"This bill is not about church. It is not about state. Rather, it is about serving the poor and needy. It is a plan to help the least of our brethren," he said in a written statement.
"The House has paved the way for new models and new solutions to combat old problems," Watts said. "The Community Solutions Act will help fight addiction, poverty, homelessness, hunger and other ills and vices that hurt the downtrodden each and ever day."
The congressman said the faith-based initiative has seen religious leaders of all background rally around the bill's purpose.
"Since Tony and I introduced this bill, we have seen a breathtaking coalition of Baptists, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, blacks, whites, Democrats and Republicans come together with the common goal of increasing charity," Watts said.
"We have seen the energy and enthusiasm behind this idea - and I am confident the faith-based initiative can overcome any hurdles in the Senate," he said. "Today is another step forward on President Bush's agenda, but the real winners are the poor, needy and the downtrodden."
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the bill will face a tough time in his chamber.
"I can't imagine that we could pass any bill that would tolerate slipping back into a level of tolerance that would be unacceptable in today's society," Daschle said.