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Federal File: Inside service

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A Newsweek reporter who had access to strategy meetings and negotiations on President Clinton's national-service proposal concludes in a new book that the program "tapped into the American people's best impulses [but] was almost killed by Washington's worst."

In The Bill: How the Adventures of Clinton's National Service Bill Reveal What Is Corrupt, Comic, Cynical--and Noble--About Washington, published by Viking Penguin, Steven Waldman provides an analysis of the behind-the-scenes wrangling over the President's national-service bill and his efforts at reforming the student-loan program.

Mr. Waldman's account points out how lobbies for unions, business, service programs, higher education, and governors influenced--and ultimately helped water down--Mr. Clinton's ambitious plan. He also devotes some attention to the efforts of banking-industry and higher-education lobbyists to weigh in on the Administration's attempt to implement direct lending and income-contingent loan repayment.

The author faults the Clinton Administration for failing to be "explicit on controversial issues," such as the degree to which service programs should strive for participants from varied racial and socioeconomic groups.

He also says that some Republicans sought to defeat direct lending "largely because Clinton supported it" and to defeat national service by raising "substantively peripheral--but politically potent--issues."

Moreover, Mr. Waldman chides the national press corps for failing to cover these pieces of legislation as they moved from campaign promise to legislation to law.

The author also reveals that:

  • An analysis criticizing direct lending, written during the 1992 Presidential campaign, was partially paid for by the Student Loan Marketing Association, which could lose its reason for existence under direct lending.
  • Former Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., who chaired the House Committee on Education and Labor when it debated the national-service bill, allowed Rep. Matthew G. Martinez, D-Calif., the seventh-ranked Democrat on the panel, to be listed as the original sponsor of the bill after then-Rep. Dave McCurdy, D-Okla., a prominent proponent of the service idea, went behind Mr. Ford's back and asked the Administration for that honor. Mr. Martinez was chosen, Mr. Waldman writes, by the flip of a coin.

--Mark Pitsch

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