Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle are making a small but symbolic legislative push to spur immediate charitable donations to the earthquake recovery in Haiti.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) and Ranking Member Dave Camp (R-MI) along with Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced legislation on Friday that would make charitable donations to the ravaged island nation tax-deductible in 2009 rather than having to wait until 2010. The goal is to encourage Americans to give right away, knowing that a write-off could be filed this tax year.
"The American people are responding with generosity and compassion to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, donating their hard-earned money and time so that those who are suffering may soon find relief," said Rangel. "This measure provides an immediate benefit for those who have already given and incentive for those who are considering a charitable contribution."
The bipartisan effort at revising the tax structure is one of the first Haiti-related legislative vehicles that members have rallied around in the days since the deadly earthquake. In addition, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) called on the administration to designate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which would allow nationals of that country to legally stay in the United States until conditions are fair enough to return. On Wednesday, meanwhile, members held a moment of silence on the House floor.
On Friday, former President Bill Clinton -- the United Nation's special envoy to Haiti -- addressed Democratic House members at their annual issues conference and implored them to stay committed to reconstruction efforts. "He talked about Haiti for about ten minutes," said one House aide, "maybe a little longer."
Back home in their districts, lawmakers have given a host of speeches and statements laying the political and philosophical framework for a long-term U.S. commitment to rebuilding Haitian society.
"This is a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions," said Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) who lived in Haiti from May of 1959 to December of 1962. "There was abject poverty and distress in Haiti prior to the earthquake; I can only imagine how horrid the situation is now. Haiti lacks good roads and bridges, hospital and emergency services to aid its citizens in a disaster like this."
Off the Hill, even more Haiti-relief activity is underway. Union officials are slated to host a major fundraiser on Monday to raise money for earthquake victims. And the lobbying community has also aimed its resources towards spurring charitable giving and helping the Haitian government coordinate requests for foreign assistance.
"The scope of our agreement is trade but obviously we are going to help. We are going to do everything we can," Ron Sorini, co-founder of Sorini, Samet & Associates, told The Hill.