Christian Coalition Tempers Its Wish List for Congress in '97

The great fight for control of the American agenda is under way.

Last week, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill unveiled their blueprints for this year. This weekend, the nation's governors will put forward their ideas. Yesterday the powerful Christian Coalition released its latest wish list - one tailored to the political realities of a divided government in Washington.

Following up on its Contract With the American Family, which was pursued through the 104th Congress, the new plan - dubbed the Samaritan Project - calls for strengthening families and combating problems facing the young. At a news conference here yesterday, Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, unveiled the agenda that represents a more modest approach in dealing with social problems and thus may find acceptance on Capitol Hill and in the White House. The new eight-point program calls for:

* Strong Families. Enact legislation that amends the Social Security Act to provide additional funding for counseling to encourage teen abstinence.

* Hope and Opportunity Scholarships. Pursue a national demonstration program that provides scholarships to low-income children in 100 of the most impoverished school districts.

* Charitable Giving. Establish a $500 tax credit for people who give financial assistance and volunteer time to private groups that help the poor.

* Racial Justice. Hold a meeting to encourage greater understanding between people of all races and focus on strengthening the family, improving education, and creating jobs.

* Empowerment Zones. Expand economic opportunities by creating empowerment zones in 100 poor communities that provide tax relief on the startup costs for new businesses.

* Revitalize the Church. Assist 1,000 places of worship to reach out to neighborhoods and communities in need by 2000.

Mr. Reed said additional items on the coalition's agenda include working to enact a constitutional amendment to protect people of faith from discrimination, and a ban on partial-birth abortions.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a 50,000-member watchdog group, criticized the coalition's agenda. Executive Director Barry Lynn says the coalition's new effort to portray itself as a champion of the poor is a ploy designed to cover up its radical political agenda.

He argues it will do little to help the impoverished. "This new dream list is a cheap veneer over the same creaky agenda of intolerance, moral paternalism, and government aid to religion that the coalition failed to pass during the last Congress," he says.

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