AmeriCorps is Changing the Minds of Congressional Republicans January 15, 2001
When President Clinton created AmeriCorps, by signing the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, he fulfilled his promise to enable America's young people to earn money for college while serving their communities. Although Congressional Republicans immediately and frequently targeted the program for elimination, AmeriCorps' success in providing service to thousands of communities and opportunities for nearly 200,000 Americans has changed the minds of many opponents. For example, in September 1999, an amendment was introduced in the Senate, which would have eliminated all AmeriCorps funding. This measure was soundly defeated, 61-38, by a bipartisan coalition that included 16 Republican Senators. [Roll Call Vote 286, 9/22/1999] Here are several examples of leading opponents of AmeriCorps who are now among the program's supporters.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): "I was wrong about AmeriCorps." In 1993, Sen. McCain voted against the creation of the AmeriCorps program and later joined with Congressional Republican in efforts to zero-out funding. In January 2000 he said, "I was wrong about AmeriCorps... I was extremely skeptical at first, mostly because I didn't trust the authors. But I've got to say that, over all, the program's been a success. And it was a failure on my part not to recognize that earlier." [Klein, New Yorker, 1/17/2000] McCain was also a cosponsor of the AmeriCorps reauthorization bill in the 106th Congress.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA): AmeriCorps is headed in a positive direction In 1994 when he was running for Senate, then Rep. Santorum characterized AmeriCorps as a program "for hippie kids to stand around a campfire holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" at the taxpayer expense." [Marx, Associated Press, 10/2/99] Recently Sen. Santorum's position has changed. In 1999 he joined the bipartisan effort to preserve AmeriCorps funding; last year his spokeswoman Melissa Sabatine admitted: "The Senator feels that under Harris Wofford's leadership the [AmeriCorps] program is headed in a positive direction." [Infield, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/12/00]
Ex-Rep. John Kasich (R-OH): AmeriCorps volunteers have "done some really great work" As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Kasich led the Republican effort to eliminate AmeriCorps program and criticized the program saying: "[I]t's an oxymoron -- hey, I'm a volunteer, how much am I going to get paid?" [Gugliotta, Washington Post, 10/26/1995] Last year, however, Kasich said, "I have seen them do some amazing things in Harlem . . . I know that AmeriCorps workers were involved in a number of the homeless programs. I would like to spend some time trying to refocus pieces of it and trying to make it more of a public/private situation, but I don't think I would cast a vote anymore that would eliminate it... they've done some really great work, and I'm impressed with them. [Riskind, Columbus Dispatch, 2/21/99]
Former-Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN): "I have changed my mind about AmeriCorps" In an opinion article he wrote in June 2000, Former Sen. Coats acknowledged that he "did not support the legislation that created AmeriCorps." However, he goes on to write, "I have changed my mind about AmeriCorps. Instead of distorting the mission of the civic sector, AmeriCorps has proved to be a source of new power and energy for nonprofit organizations across the country... AmeriCorps members, through their idealism, enthusiasm and can-do spirit, have multiplied the impact of organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Habitat [for Humanity], and hundreds of other organizations large and small." [The Hill, 6/21/2000]
Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO): "There are people who are providing valuable services." Sen. Bond voted against the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993, however he was one of the 16 Republican Senators who voted down the effort to eliminate funding in 1999. During this debate, Sen. Bond declared, "The battle over whether we ought to have an AmeriCorps program or not is over. It has been decided... It is funded. It is in place in communities in my state and across the nation. There are people who are providing valuable services. There is strong support." [Congressional Record, 9/22/1999]
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR): "Stands with President" in support of AmeriCorps In September 1999 Sen. Smith voted to cut funding for AmeriCorps. However, two months later he expressed his support for AmeriCorps at the dedication of the Oregon Gardens wetland. The Appeal Tribune in Silverton, Oregon reported that "Sen. Gordon Smith told a crowd that he stands with President Clinton in support of funding with the AmeriCorps program." [Dunham, Appeal Tribune, 11/13/99] Sen. Smith also became a cosponsor of AmeriCorps' reauthorization in the 106th Congress.
Other Republican Senators Have Changed Their Vote on AmeriCorps In addition to those mentioned above, the following is a list of Senators who voted against the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993 but changed their minds and now support AmeriCorps: Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KS). [Roll Call Vote 231, 8/3/1993]
Republicans Co-Sponsored AmeriCorps Reauthorization This year Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and Jeffords (R-VT) in the Senate and Rep. Shays (R-CT) in the House introduced the National and Community Service Amendments Act to reauthorize the AmeriCorps program. The following is a list of Congressional Republicans who co-sponsored this legislation despite voting against the creation of AmeriCorps or supporting efforts to eliminate funding in the past: Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Rep. Rick Hill (R-MT), Rep. Charles Pickering (R-MS), Rep. John Porter ( R-IL), Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL).