It's a bargain for taxpayers: For every federal dollar invested, national-service members deliver as much as $3 in services. In the brutal new economy, nonprofit organizations are struggling to meet people's needs, and the Corporation for National and Community Service fills the gaps, winning praise from Republican lawmakers, including those now poised to gut the program. GOP national security experts and retired military leaders consider the federal spending a small investment in furthering a national ethos of service.
Among the program's successes: improving academic performances in the nation's poorest schools and helping veterans with the transition from war to peacetime.
And yet, a GOP-led House Appropriations subcommittee is proposing to slash the service corporation's budget by one-third, from $1.05 billion to $687.8 million. That is 42 percent less than Obama requested, and would force the elimination of more than 40,000 of AmeriCorps' 75,000 positions.
That's draconian. During his first presidential race, Obama pledged to "expand and fund AmeriCorps" from 75,000 to 250,000 positions, putting service-minded millennials to work on the nation's toughest problems. Under Bush, the program had grown from 50,000 slots.
After just three months in office, Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act authorizing the expansion of the program to the goal of 250,000. He had kept his promise, Obama bragged, and he declared 2009 the dawn of a "new era of service."
But the dawn never broke. Congress never funded the quarter-million hires, not even when Democrats controlled both chambers from 2009 to 2010. Enrollment never crept above 80,000.
Of all his broken promises, this might hit closest to home for Obama, a former community organizer with a special affinity for AmeriCorps. As I've written before, it also reflects a familiar pattern of his presidency: Raise hopes for big change, watch dogged rivals crush those hopes, and hear Democrats gripe about his strategy or resolve.
When I asked AnnMaura Connolly on Thursday morning what the White House was doing to counter the GOP cuts, the president of Voices for National Service said with more than a hint of frustration: "That would be a good question to ask them. I have been emailing the White House with abandon today with no luck so far."
I also emailed a White House spokesman. No reply yet.
Easier to reach was the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican. (Disclosure: my youngest daughter interned for Cole last summer.) He called the proposed cuts a matter of "priorities, not antipathy."
In the same bill, the GOP-controlled panel is proposing budget increases for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and education services for special-needs children. In many cases, Cole said, those programs—long favorites of the Democratic Party—would get more money than Obama put in his own budget.