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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Still Another Assault On National Service

Having done a brief meditation on mortality in my last post, I should mention the passing of a very good man recently: Eli Segal, who among other things, was the founding father of AmeriCorps. Al From wrote a tribute to Eli’s service to his country and his party that you can read here.My own most vivid memory of Eli was of a phone call I received from him at home late one night in the midst of congressional consideration of the original AmeriCorps legislation. Some veterans group had become concerned that the post-service educational benefits proposed for AmeriCorps participants were too generous in comparison to veterans’ benefits, and Eli was trying to get in touch with my former boss, long-time national service champion Senator Sam Nunn, to help put out the fire. But he greeted me with the words: “Ed Kilgore! History is calling!”At the time I thought the line was very funny, and typically Eli. But as I get older, I think he might well have been correct: tracking down Sam Nunn that night might have been one of my few personal contributions to the national welfare. Eli Segal had to put out many other fires that threatened the Clinton administration’s small but proud national service initiative, particularly after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. He probably felt vindicated when George W. Bush made national service a major theme of his 2003 State of the Union Address, and promised to stop GOP efforts to kill AmeriCorps and related programs. But that’s why it especially outrageous that Bush’s latest budget renewed the Republican assault on national service, proposing to shut down the National Civilian Community Corps, an ancillary program to AmeriCorps whose members have particularly distinguished themselves in post-Katrina recovery efforts. The Office of Management and Budget’s rationale for this proposal is that the per-participant cost of NCCC is marginally higher than that of AmeriCorps. Well, that’s hardly surprising, since the whole point to NCCC is that it is a residential program targeted in no small part to young people from very disadvantaged backgrounds, who need residential support. Guest-blogging at Political Animal, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris goes after this proposed elimination of NCCC, and offers some alternative cuts if Republicans are actually serious about cutting frivolous federal spending. And like Paul, a whole generation of national service advocates, among whom I am proud to be a charter member going back to the 1980s, is mobilizing to expose the Bush proposal for the hypocritical joke that it actually is.Somewhere, Eli Segal is smiling.

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