MILWAUKEE – Making his fifth trip to Milwaukee since taking office, President Bush once again promoted his domestic agenda, and specifically, his plan for religious groups to be able to compete for the federal government's social service contracts, a proposal that is stuck motionless on Capitol Hill.
The president's proposal calls for giving government aid to religious groups that perform social services as long as they don't prosyletize to those uninterested in religious doctrine.
"The federal government should not ask, 'Does your organization believe in God,'" Bush told a small audience at Milwaukee's Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ. "They ought to ask, 'Does your program work, are you saving lives, are you making a difference in people's lives?"'
The House passed a pilot program last year that would give cash to religious groups that perform social services, but the Senate Finance Committee last month stripped out those provisions, instead allowing only for tax breaks to individuals who give to religious and other charitable organizations. The White House has not indiciated if Bush would sign that bill without the additional measure.
The president also talked Tuesday about how the Department of Health and Human Services, headed by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, will award $200 million in bonuses to those states with the highest welfare-to-work placement rates, including $14 million for the state of Wisconsin.
The Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate are hashing out starkly different versions of a new welfare reform bill to replace the 1996 bill that expires this year.
The Senate wants $5.5 billion to help working parents pay for child care, and a requirement for 30 hours of work per week for welfare recipients. The House has passed a bill that calls for $3.7 billion for child care payments, and 40 hours a week of work. Both chambers agree on spending $200 million to promote marriage among welfare recipients.
Bush said Tuesday that the government must "insist upon work, then help people who need help finding a job, either training or job placement."
And as he did Monday in Cleveland, the president welcomed last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of that city's school voucher plan under which parents can spend tax money on the cost of private or religious schooling.
"I want to thank the Supreme Court for making an important decision when it ratified the Cleveland voucher program. It said that it was an important statement about 'let's focus on each child, to make sure no child is left behind, let's worry more about results and less about process,'" Bush said.
Milwaukee also has a "voucher" program that will continue to operate because of the court's decision.
"I am so appreciative of what Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee has done in terms of providing choice — you call it whatever you want to call it, vouchers, choice, whatever it is. Freedom for parents is what I call it," Bush said.
And on foreign policy, the president vowed never to support American participation in the International Criminal Court, a war crimes tribunal that came into force on Monday. The administration claims the ICC will leave U.S. peacekeeping forces vulnerable to unwarranted and politically-motivated prosecutions. Russia and China have also refused to sign onto the court though 76 nations have ratified the 1998 treaty so far.
The president warned, "As the United States works to bring peace around the world, our diplomats and our soldiers could be drug into this court."
For that reason, he said, "We're not going to ... sign on to the International Criminal Court."
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.