Shameless plug for a student

taxesHere's a hard-news story that I have been interested in, ever since some of the details of President Barack Obama's stimulus and tax plan began to surface. Thus, I have been watching for mainstream coverage of the topic. Needless to say, Religion News Service is the logical place to look for this kind of tight, narrowly focused coverage. That's what specialty wire services do for a living and we can only hope that, as the mainstream media evolves into whatever is coming next, RNS and other specialty wires and websites find some way to hang on.

So here's the top of the report, as it appeared in USA Today:

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's proposed 2010 federal budget contains a 7% cut in charitable tax deductions for the nation's wealthiest taxpayers. Some religious groups are asking how that will affect their bottom line.

The answer: it depends who you ask.

Here's what it means in real terms for the 5% of Americans whose household income exceeds $250,000 a year. Those families can currently save $350 in taxes for every $1,000 donated to charity; under Obama's plan, that amount would drop to $280 per $1,000 donation.

"By doing this, you raise the cost of giving" said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at The Tax Policy Center, a liberal Washington think tank.

Now if you keep reading and you choose to read between the lines, as I tend to do, it would appear that religious institutions of higher learning, especially those looking for new buildings anytime soon, have more to fear than ordinary churches, which depend more on the giving of ordinary people in the pews.

Another angle worth pursuing: How about the impact of this tax increase on religious hospitals and other large networks that offer charity to the least of these? In hard times, can the White House sell any policy that takes money away from religious and non-religious caregivers, as opposed to large donations for football stadiums, art galleries and other high-ticket items?

Readers also need to read all the way to the end to get another grace note from the nakedly political side of the story:

All of this may be moot by the time Congress takes up the budget later this summer. Sen. Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee, has already indicated there may be trouble ahead.

Conrad told U.S. News and World Report that he's already heard so many complaints about the proposal that he could "absolutely be sure we can't pass this budget."

Like I said, it's hard to take money away from charities. Perhaps this note of reality could have been mentioned higher in the story. I'll mention that to the reporter this morning, since Karin Hamilton is one of my students at the Washington Journalism Center. You gotta keep 'em on their toes, you know.

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