WASHINGTON – A former White House official says "widespread congressional apathy and a desire for political gamesmanship" doomed President Bush's tax incentives for charitable giving.
In testimony prepared for a hearing on charities, David Kuo (search), former deputy director at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (search), also criticized Republican efforts to repeal the estate tax because of its potential drain on charitable giving.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, called Kuo to testify Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee as part of an investigation into abuses at tax-exempt charitable organizations (search). Grassley has said he wants to pass a bill clamping down on the problems this spring.
Kuo's prepared testimony was obtained by The Associated Press on Monday night.
The Bush administration has defended the president's record on faith-based initiatives from Kuo's criticism. Kuo argued earlier this year that the White House gained politically from Bush's vow to include religious organizations in federal funding to help the needy but lacks commitment to the cause.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at the time that the faith-based program remains at the top of the president's priorities.
Turning his criticism to lawmakers, Kuo said Congress sidelined the president's effort and ignored ideas that had support from Republicans and Democrats.
"I have been astonished by the lack of interest in these matters by your colleagues," he said.
Tax incentives for charitable giving, including a new deduction for donations available to taxpayers who don't itemize their deductions, have gone nowhere. "Why? In large part it is because of widespread congressional apathy and a desire for political gamesmanship on all sides," he said.
The president dropped some of those incentives from the budget submitted this spring, outlining spending and policy proposals for next year.
Kuo said there's no topic more ignored by political leaders than "matters of charity, of care for the poor" because they don't have a powerful lobbying force.
"They aren't likely to flood your office with calls, e-mails or letters and yet there are more poor Americans today than there were four years ago," he said.
Kuo also said estimates show that a full repeal of the estate tax could cost the charitable sector more than $10 billion each year. The estate tax leads wealthy individuals to contribute to charities because the donations reduce their estate tax liability.
"That is a lot of money," he said.
The Congressional Budget Office (search) last year reported that repealing the estate tax could cause a 6 percent to 12 percent drop in charitable contributions and bequests.