THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY DURING NATIONAL SERVICE ANNIVERSARY MEETING The Cabinet Room
1:22 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I am glad to be here today with Senator Pell, Congressman Reed, Congressman Kennedy, Eli Segal, Senator Wofford, and the remarkable representative group of leaders from the state of Rhode Island, including leaders of the majority of the institutions of higher education there; business leaders, Mr. Fish, Mr. Romney, thank you for coming from Massachusetts; and young AmeriCorps volunteers; and of course, Senator Wofford. And Nick Lowry has been a great supporter of AmeriCorps from its beginning.
We are here to mark AmeriCorps' first year of accomplishment and to find ways to make it better in the second year when 25,000 Americans will be out serving their country and earning some money for their higher education.
AmeriCorps members have helped children to do better in school. They've helped to close crack houses. They've helped communities team up with police to keep themselves safe. They've cleaned mountain trails and urban waterways. And from Oklahoma City to South Florida, from the banks of the Mississippi to the streets of Los Angeles, whenever our people were faced with disaster in these last couple of years, AmeriCorps members have been there to help.
AmeriCorps has truly brought out the best in America. Behind this success is a partnership that cuts across every line and sector in our country, where young people and others who work in the communities, leaders in business, education, community service and public service, work together to make lives better for ordinary Americans.
AmeriCorps members help our nation as they help themselves. They earn money to help pay for colleges. And of course, some colleges are going even further. The Rhode Island colleges and universities here represented and those who are not here will be matching AmeriCorps scholarships and college loan repayments. And I want to thank all of them.
Meanwhile, CEOs, like Mitt Romney of Bain Capital in Boston, have urged others to follow their examples of support for AmeriCorps participation. Foundations like the Ford Foundation, which has contributed $3 million as a challenge pool to community foundations, have also helped to stretch our federal investment.
An investment in AmeriCorps goes far. A team of noted conservative economists found recently that every dollar of federal money invested returns at least $1.60 to $2.60, and maybe even more, for the taxpayers in public benefits. And, of course, that doesn't calculate the long-term benefit of the increased education of the young people who participate in AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is about personal responsibility and community, about giving young people positive avenues to opportunity.
Now, the majority in Congress threatens to cut college scholarships and college loans and AmeriCorps. But in AmeriCorps we have a program that lifts our values and solves our problems, it helps send civic-minded, hard-working young people to college. That's the kind of thing America should do to build up and not tear down.
Tens of thousands of young Americans are lining up to serve their country in AmeriCorps. And I don't want Congress to close the door on them. I want the Republican majority to learn what the rest of our country now knows. Without regard to party, AmeriCorps works.
If the congressional majority really wants to build more personal responsibility and expand opportunity only for those who are willing to help themselves, if they really want to rebuild a sense of community in America, then their principles and our common future should be put above politics. AmeriCorps should grow; it should not die.
I want to reemphasize that it is not necessary to balance the budget to destroy AmeriCorps or even to cut it in half. It is absolutely not necessary. This is a good program, and I think we'll be around next year to celebrate the second anniversary and look toward the third year, thanks to people like all of you around this room. I thank you very, very much.
Q Mr. President, do you think that the Republicans want to end the program simply because it's so closely associated with you and because it has been one of your head programs?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think they'd be that small. I think that would be an incredibly small thing to do. I don't think they'd be that small. You know, I don't speculate on people's motives. But I believe that some people in the Congress really don't believe that any spending program is as good as any tax cut. That's what I think. I think that -- and I believe that any new thing that's been done -- I happen to have been President the last two years -- I think any new thing that's been done is in their mind an easy thing to eliminate if you want to balance the budget. But it is not necessary. We have given them a balanced budget plan. They don't have to cut this to balance the budget. This is a tiny, tiny budget item that does an enormous amount of good.
Q They say that -- (inaudible) -- to the GAO report, I think, that's out now that shows that the amount of money that's actually spent per volunteer is a lot more than the $4,000 that the White House says --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have -- you know, we have a lot of evidence that refutes that. I don't -- and I'll be glad to give it to you; Mr. Segal can. But it's clear that this is an enormously popular program. The one thing the GAO didn't do is to consider all the people that are kicking into the program, they leverage the private money. And there's no calculation given to the extra economic benefit to the country from all these young people that are going on to school. But even on its own terms, I don't think it's right economically.
This has been a good deal for America. And there's not a community -- yesterday I was in Carbondale, Illinois, in the American Heartland -- a small town with a good-sized university, where the young AmeriCorps volunteers are working in the elementary school there. All these people are working people, and a phenomenal percentage of them are working poor people who live in this community. And they'd like to see their AmeriCorps volunteers stay. And they'd like to see them going on to school there. And I think we're going to give them the chance to do that.
Q Mr. President, how optimistic are you of keeping the program alive?
THE PRESIDENT: Very.
Q I mean -- are you finding a consensus among other members of Congress to keep it going?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, there are a lot of Republicans that down deep in their heart want this program to live. And, after all, we created this program with bipartisan support. I went out of my way in 1993 to say that I did not want any educational initiative created if we didn't have bipartisan support for it. I did not want this to be a partisan issue. And I have not made it a partisan issue.
And I just believe that we have to be more discriminating about what we eliminate. To go back to the question you asked, I honestly believe that, particularly in the House of Representatives, there are 100 to 150 members and I believe that except for the national defense any tax cut is better than any spending program. But I think that's wrong. And we don't have to -- we do not have to eliminate this to balance the budget. And I think I'll be able to make that point as we get into these budget negotiations. And I think -- I think the program will survive, because it's a good, decent program; it's an effective program; and it has bipartisan support.
Q Are you willing to sign onto the Republican spending limits without accepting their priorities as a possible compromise on the budget?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know that that's a compromise. I have an alternative; they have an alternative. I picked up some kind of reading between the lines of some of the comments of the leadership and other prominent members of Congress in the last couple of weeks, the possibility of some movement that might enable us to get together. I don't want a train wreck; I want a balanced budget in a fixed number of years that has great credibility in the marketplace, and I believe we'll get it. I'm very hopeful.
Q And will you sign a continuing resolution in the meantime?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I hope we'll get a good continuing resolution. That's quite important. It's important that we not just walk away from our responsibilities.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EDT