President Clinton triumphs again. His relentless propaganda machine, in the last throes of its legacy-building frenzy, sent out a White House press release this week heralding the success of AmeriCorps. Created in 1993, this big-government boondoggle pays young people to "volunteer" in "community service" jobs at a cost of nearly half a billion dollars to taxpayers.
The press release doesn't cite liberal cheerleaders of the program. It cites Republican after Republican, from Arizona Sen. John McCain to Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to Missouri Sen. Kit Bond and ex-Ohio Rep. John Kasich, praising Clinton's monstrous creation. "Although Congressional Republicans immediately and frequently targeted the program for elimination, AmeriCorps' success in providing service to thousands of communities and opportunities for nearly 200,000 Americans has changed the minds of many opponents," the White House boasts.
McCain, who initially voted against AmeriCorps' creation, now says: "I was wrong ... I was extremely skeptical at first, mostly because I didn't trust the authors. But I've got to say that, overall, the program's been a success." Santorum, who once lambasted the program as an opportunity "for hippie kids to stand around a campfire holding hands and singing 'Kumbaya' at taxpayer expense," turned around and voted to preserve AmeriCorps funding last year. Kumbaya, indeed.
Bond, another former foe, declared on the Senate floor recently: "The battle over whether we ought to have an AmeriCorps program or not is over. It has been decided ... There is strong support." Kasich, once a staunch budget hawk who led the campaign to eliminate AmeriCorps, now believes Clinton's community service cadre has "done some really great work."
Other GOP members of the Senate and House who initially opposed the creation and funding of AmeriCorps but now support it include: Utah Sens. Robert Bennett and Orrin Hatch, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, New York Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, Montana Rep. Rick Hill, Mississippi Rep. Charles Pickering, and Illinois Reps. John Porter and John Shimkus.
Where have all the fiscal conservatives gone? Have these Republicans forgotten the countless examples of AmeriCorps-sponsored projects that paid participants to lobby for left-wing causes? Like the tax-subsidized AmeriCorps volunteers who lobbied against the voter-approved California initiative to put violent criminals in prison for life after a third violent crime. Or the recruits who showed their community spirit by disrupting Republican political events while working for the liberal advocacy group, ACORN.
Or the AmeriCorps foot soldiers who pressed for rent control, expanded federal housing subsidies, and enrollment of more women in the Women, Infants and Children welfare program. Or the AmeriCorps enrollees who distributed low-flush toilets as part of a government campaign.
What about the millions of dollars that were wasted during the program's first three years, when nearly 3,000 recruits were sent to do busy work for bureaucrats at the Department of Justice, the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Legal Services Corporation, and the National Endowment for the Arts?
Or the volunteers who were paid to encourage immigrants in Washington state "to talk with one another in English." Or the legions of untrained and miseducated young recruits who have been unleashed to tutor children in reading.
Citizens Against Government Waste, the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, has vigilantly tracked such stomach-churning examples since AmeriCorps' inception. In a recent report, the group concluded that Clinton's pet cause "has become a showcase for the waste, abuse and cynical political manipulation inherent in many federally subsidized civic enterprises." Both private and public investigators have deemed AmeriCorps' financial books "unauditable." AmeriCorps' own inspector general documented cases in which recruits received grants for working at McDonald's, not working at all, and while incarcerated in prison. Nearly half of the participants drop out before their service term is over.
Nevertheless, government spending on AmeriCorps is up 248 percent since its creation. And there's no end in sight. Thanks to aid and comfort from Republicans, Clinton's legacy of waste and cynicism and corrupted volunteerism has achieved political immortality. The insatiable beast of bipartisanship lumbers on.