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House Backs Bill To Create National-Service Program

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WASHINGTON--The House last week advanced a key component of President Clinton's domestic agenda by passing a bill to create a federal corporation to administer and facilitate national and community service.

But while the President's proposal emerged from the House with relatively few changes, it was stymied late last week in the Senate. Despite significant modifications aimed at broadening support for the bill, backers were unable to invoke cloture in order to head off a threatened Republican filibuster.

A second vote to close off debate was scheduled for late last week.

Several Republican senators who co-sponsored the bill or supported it in committee refused to back the bill on the floor or indicate they would vote for cloture.

Sixty votes are needed to limit floor debate, and Democratic leaders could amass only 58--all of the Democrats and James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., and Dave Durenberger, R-Minn.--in informal vote counts.

Late last week a compromise version of the bill was presented by Mr. Durenberger and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who chairs the Labor and Human Resources Committee. Sen. John H. Chafee, R-R.I., lent his support to the cloture motion after the compromise was submitted, but no one else followed his lead.

Senate Compromise

The compromise calls for a three-year authorization of the Corporation for National Service, which would merge the Commission on National and Community Service and ACTION, the agency that runs the Volunteers in Service to America program. Spending levels would begin at $300 million in fiscal 1994 and increase $200 million each year through fiscal 1996.

About 20,000 students and graduates at least 17 years old would be eligible under the compromise. They would receive a $7,400 subsistence wage annually while completing their service work in targeted areas, and a $5,000 educational stipend for each of two years of service.

An aide to Mr. Durenberger said the failure to invoke cloture meant that the Democrats would be forced to scale back the bill even more to pick up an additional Republican vote.

In earlier action on S 919, the Senate accepted an amendment to limit child-care assistance for program participants to those who otherwise could not afford such care.

Senators rejected an amendment, offered by Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., to authorize the program for two years at $100 million a year. Ms. Kassebaum's amendment would have provided service opportunities for about 5,000 young people.

If the bill, S 919, is passed by the time Congress recesses Aug. 9, it will go to a House-Senate conference next month to reconcile differences with the House bill, HR 2010.

Education Benefits Cut

In contrast to the latest version of S 919, HR 2010 would authorize the program for five years, with an authorization of $389 million for fiscal 1994 and open-ended funding in future years, as the Administration had proposed.

About 25,000 young people would participate in the first year of the program, with as many as 150,000 involved in the program annually by the fifth year of operation. They would receive the same in-service wage as proposed by the Senate, but the post-service educational benefit would amount to $4,725 for each year of service.

Members of the House overwhelmingly agreed to that amount after Rep. Bob Stump of Arizona, who is the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, sought to reduce the figure to $3,840. That would be 80 percent of educational benefits currently offered for three years of military service.

Rep. G.V. "Sonny'' Montgomery, D-Miss., who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, brokered the compromise.

Before Clinton Administration officials presented their "national-service trust act'' earlier this year, Mr. Montgomery objected to the inclusion of a provision that would provide a $10,000 educational stipend for each of two years of service, arguing that it was unfair to give those who served in the armed forces less than what domestic participants would receive. The Administration then reduced the stipend to $5,000.

"We like the $5,000 but we don't think it does violence to the program to have $4,725,'' said an aide to Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and the bill's floor manager.

Other Amendments

The House also accepted an amendment to HR 2010 that would move the national-service appropriation from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies to the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Members rejected amendments to make national-service appropriations contingent on the future funding of discretionary student-aid programs at least at fiscal 1993 levels, and to restrict the educational benefit to participants' financial need.

HR 2010 passed by a vote of 275 to 152. Although the Administration hailed the action as a bipartisan victory, only seven Republicans joined the 19 G.O.P. co-sponsors in backing the bill.

"It certainly does give some credence to the idea that people are just negative'' to the Clinton agenda, Mr. Ford's aide said.

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