King of Jordan Is Given

Role in Peace Process

President Bush asked Jordan's King Abdullah II yesterday to visit Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to help advance the Middle East peace process.

"It will be very helpful to have your voice of reason there to talk to both leaders," Bush said after meeting with Abdullah in the Oval Office. The president said Abdullah "graciously agreed" to meet with Sharon and Abbas.

Jordan has urged the United States and its diplomatic partners to help resume talks aimed at achieving Palestinian statehood now that Israel has pulled out of the Gaza Strip after a 38-year occupation. Abdullah has said he hopes the international community would devise a plan to rescue the Palestinian economy from the devastation of decades of mismanagement and conflict with Israel.

Sitting next to Bush in the Oval Office, Abdullah thanked Bush for his support for trying to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I know that you want to find a solution that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and harmony," Abdullah said. "I hope, if we can help in that respect, that is a great honor for us."

House Allows Religion

In Hiring for Head Start

The House voted to let Head Start centers consider religion when hiring workers, overshadowing its moves to strengthen the preschool program's academics and finances.

The Republican-led House approved a bill that lets churches and other faith-based preschool centers hire only people who share their religion, yet still receive federal tax dollars.

Democrats blasted that idea as discriminatory.

Launched in the 1960s, the nearly $7 billion Head Start program provides comprehensive education to more than 900,000 poor children. Though credited with preparing children for school, Head Start has drawn scrutiny as cases of financial waste and questions about academic quality have surfaced.

Overall, the House bill would insert more competition into Head Start grants, require greater disclosure of how money is spent, and try to improve collaboration among educators in different grades.

The House passed the bill 231 to 184; only 23 Democrats voted for it.

Veterans Medical Care

Gets a Boost in Budget

The Senate unanimously approved a boost in the budget for veterans' medical care.

The measure, passed on a 98 to 0 vote, would increase spending 21 percent, or about $4 billion, to $23.3 billion, for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. More veterans are seeking care and the cost per patient is rising.

About half the increase was in response to a mid-year request by the Bush administration. It was added to the budget as emergency funds not subject to the $843 billion ceiling set for the annual appropriations bills.

-- From News Services