Christian Coalition venturing beyond its social agenda Family values linked to economic concerns


WASHINGTON -- When word spread recently that Republican leaders might water down a big tax break for families with children, not a peep of protest was heard from the business lobbyists who scrutinize most tax changes with a microscope.

Instead, it was the Christian Coalition that turned up the heat, firing off letters of protest to Senate Finance Committee Republicans.

A day later, the plan vanished. "They weren't just a vocal advocate for that tax credit -- they were the principal sponsors," said Stephen Moore, an economist who attended key early GOP strategy sessions on the federal budget overhaul. "They had a huge role in shaping the Republican tax bill."

Born of an evangelical fervor on issues such as school prayer and abortion, the Christian Coalition has set off on a broader, more ambitious path: It now seeks to influence the national agenda on key budget items, including nitty-gritty provisions of tax policy that affect millions of households.

In the coming days, as Congress prepares to send the White House its sweeping revision of the federal budget, important tax breaks in the document will bear the Christian Coalition's imprint.

A set of "family-friendly" tax measures, which would use the tax code to advance social and political objectives, includes TC $500-per-child tax credit, a new individual retirement account for homemakers, tax breaks for parents who adopt and a softening of the "marriage penalty" faced by two-earner couples.

"We realize that strengthening the family is about a lot more than abortion issues or welfare issues," said Brian C. Lopina, director of the coalition's governmental affairs office in Washington. "It touches many facets, not the least of which is the family budget."

It was in 1993 that Ralph Reed, the coalition's executive director, called on the religious conservative movement to venture beyond its traditional concerns about school prayer, abortion, homosexuality and other social matters. Otherwise, he warned, their movement would not prevail.

"The successful candidate or movement must promote policies that personally benefit voters -- such as tax cuts, education vouchers, higher wages or retirement benefits," Mr. Reed wrote in an article titled "Casting a Wider Net," which appeared in a journal published by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

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