Clinton Seeks To Head OffCuts in National Service
President Clinton last week launched a pre-emptive strike against the threat that the new Republican Congress may try to cut funding for AmeriCorps, the national-service program that he views as one of his proudest achievements.
Speaking in Denver at a Martin Luther King Day ceremony, Mr. Clinton said the intent of budget cuts is not to "wreck the government," but to "give us a lean government that will help us to work together to solve our own problems."
AmeriCorps, he said, serves as a national model for community service.
The President's comments may have been prompted by an article that appeared in Newsweek magazine last week, in which the Speaker of the House, Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said that he is "totally, unequivocally opposed to national service." He called the program "coerced voluntarism."
While there has been no formal proposal to kill AmeriCorps, Republican aides say it will be targeted for 1995 budget rescissions. And they predicted an effort to kill the program outright when it comes up for reauthorization in 1996.
AmeriCorps was created by the 1993 National and Community Service Trust Act. More than 20,000 participants now serve in 300 programs nationwide. In exchange for work, they receive small salaries and up to $4,725 for college or job training.
The program's 1994 budget of $300 million increased to $500 million in fiscal 1995. About 13,000 members are expected to join this year.
Eli Segal, the chief executive officer for AmeriCorps, has invited Mr. Gingrich to visit an AmeriCorps program.
"AmeriCorps programs renew America just the way [Mr. Gingrich] has been talking about, with citizens solving problems from the grassroots up," Mr. Segal said at a Jan. 16 White House briefing.
Mr. Gingrich had not responded to the invitation as of late last week.
The Education Department is pointing to recent polls to bolster its contention that education programs should be spared in Congress's move toward spending cuts.
"People know education is the key to prosperity and the wisest investment we can make in our children's and our nation's future," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said.
It cites polls released this month, last December, and in 1993 to suggest that the public's message on education is consistently supportive.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Jan. 6 found eight of 10 respondents calling for a balanced-budget amendment, but two of three saying their support would fold if education or Social Security were to be cut.
In a poll conducted last month for the Times-Mirror Center for the People and the Press, 64 percent of respondents would increase education spending if they could set the federal budget, compared with 6 percent who would cut it.
Finally, a 1993 National Opinion Research Center poll found that 71 percent of those asked supported more education spending.
Meanwhile, the department released a letter sent to Mr. Riley by the teachers named National Teacher of the Year in each of the previous three years. The letter urges the Secretary to fight against education-spending cuts and any attempt to dismantle the Education Department.
The House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities says it has cut the panel's staff by one-third, trimming its annual costs by more than $1.25 million.
The panel's payroll has dropped from 112 workers during the past Congress to 75 this year. Of those 75 employees, 53 will serve Republican committee members, and 22 will work for the Democrats. That compares with 83 Democratic aides and 29 Republican aides last year.
Over all, House Republicans say they have trimmed 622 of 1,854 staff positions, or 34 percent, for a savings of nearly $45 million a year.
The public can now get the latest information on Congressional activities through a new on-line system called thomas, named in honor of Thomas Jefferson.
The system consolidates into one database information on Congress now available in various places on the Internet. By month's end, the full texts of bills from the 104th Congress will be available on thomas.
Speaker Gingrich and James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, announced the program last week.
The Uniform Resource Locator for thomas is: http://thomas.loc.gov.
--Robert C. Johnston & Mark Pitsch