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BUSH pitches in to build home, highlighting religious initiative

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ President Bush is trading in his tie for a tool belt for a few hours, helping build a house while promoting his initiative to support religious groups that perform social services.

Bush was joining a crew of four other workers as part of the Habitat for Humanity program Tuesday, hammering nails and raising the fourth wall for a home to be owned by Johana Rodriguez.

Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization that has a partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Bush's ``charitable choice'' initiative would allow religious institutions to compete for a share of the social-services money that the government distributes.

Habitat for Humanity spokesman Michael Crook wasn't sure whether the program stood to directly benefit from Bush's initiative.

But, Crook said, ``We happen to be a faith-based organization that demonstrates successfully you can have a partnership with government without raising constitutional questions.''

Bush was also using the construction project to mark National Homeownership Week, June 3-10.

Former President Carter is Habitat for Humanity's most famous volunteer. He was invited to join the Tampa project Tuesday, but was traveling in Uganda, a White House spokeswoman said.

Bush, after his return to the White House later in the day, planned to meet with a bipartisan group of senators, looking to advance his education plan in Congress. His aim, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, was to urge senators to ``move quickly to enact meaningful reform before the next school year.''

Tuesday evening, Bush and his wife, Laura, arranged to have dinner with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his wife, Cindy. McCain, who fought Bush for the GOP presidential nomination and has opposed the president on some issues, is sponsor of a patients' bill of rights that is due to be considered soon after the Democrats take control of the Senate on Wednesday.
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