Job-training bill passes with GOP opposition

The Job Training Improvement Act passed the House 224-200 last week, but for the eight Republicans who voted against the bill, fiscal responsibility is more important than the bill’s appeal for faith-based organizations.

“Runaway spending on entitlements, such as Social Security. Medicare and Medicaid, is threatening to drown our children in debt,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), who admitted it was a tough decision to vote against the bill.

Hensarling added, “We face tough choices, but before we authorize the creation of three new government programs we must enact meaningful entitlement and budget-enforcement reforms. The American people deserve to know that their money is being spent wisely and where it is needed most.”

Aides to three other Republicans who voted no expressed similar concerns about the bill, which would cost $251 million in 2006 and $31.6 billion over the 2006-2011 period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Jeff Deist, a spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), said that Paul never votes for “so-called” job-training bills and that the ability to create such programs is found “nowhere in the Constitution.”

Matthew Specht, a spokesman for Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said the price tag of the act turned the table for his boss. “He thinks that job training is more a function of state governments,” Specht said.

Carlos Espinosa, a spokesman for Rep. Thomas Tancredo (R-Colo.), said, “Government-paid job training has never been effective.”

Republican Reps. Zach Wamp (Tenn.), James Sensenbrenner (Wis.), John Duncan Jr. (Tenn.) and Rep. John Hostettler (Ind.) also voted against the bill.

The faith-based provision stipulates that religious organizations could choose to employ members of their own faith exclusively and still be eligible for federal funds.
The bill, which amends the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee but has not been scheduled for a mark-up. Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) generally supports a role for faith-based organizations in job training programs.

HELP spokesman Craig Orfield said in an e-mail that Enzi “has not completed reviewing the House bill” but “continues to examine the role of faith based organizations in providing high-skilled job training.” He added, “Faith based organizations deliver important supportive services to people most in need.”

Faith-based groups were deeply divided over the legislation, some calling it unconstitutional, others vowing to see its passage through the Senate.

Stanley Carlson, director of social policy studies for the conservative Center for Public Justice, predicted the Senate will pass the bill because most of its members are no longer afraid of weighing in on faith-based issues.

In the past, he said, the Senate used to view religious staffing as “touchy stuff [they] don’t want to handle.”

He added, “There are a significant number of people who are favorable to the faith-based initiative” this year.

The Rev. Timothy McDonald, chairman of African American Ministers in Action, a project of the liberal People For the American Way, said in a letter, “The role of the church is to promote our religious teachings, and this should not be confused with religious tolerance or discrimination.”

Hilary Shelton, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his organization has already began lobbying senators against the provision.

“We don’t want to stop the appropriations from getting through,” Shelton said. “[But] without these safeguards in place, discrimination will become much worse.”

All eight of the Republicans who voted against the job-training improvement bill also voted against an amendment offered by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) that would have removed the faith-based exemption from the bill.

By law, federally funded organizations cannot discriminate against an individual based on race, religion color or gender, national origin, age, disability, political affiliation or belief.