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OPINION

To GIVE and To SERVE: The $6 Billion National Service Boondoggle

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Maybe it's just me, but I find federal legislation titled "The GIVE Act" and "The SERVE Act" downright creepy. Even more troubling: the $6 billion price tag on these bipartisan bills to expand government-funded national service efforts.

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Volunteerism is a wonderful thing, which is why millions of Americans do it every day without a cent of taxpayer money. But the volunteerism packages on the Hill are less about promoting effective charity than about creating make-work, permanent bureaucracies and left-wing slush funds.

The House passed the "Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act" -- or the GIVE Act -- last week. The Senate took up the companion SERVE Act Tuesday afternoon. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate bill (S.277), it would cost "$418 million in 2010 and about $5.7 billion over the 2010-2014 period."

Like most federal programs, these would be sure to grow over time. The bills reauthorize the Clinton-era AmeriCorps boondoggle program and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973.

The programs have already been allocated $1.1 billion for fiscal year 2009, including $200 million from the porkulus package signed into law last month. In addition to recruiting up to 250,000 enrollees in AmeriCorps, the GIVE/SERVE bills would create new little armies of government volunteers, including a Clean Energy Corps, Education Corps, Healthy Futures Corps, Veterans Service Corps, and an expanded National Civilian Community Corps for disaster relief and energy conservation.

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But that's not all. Spending would include new funds for:

-- Foster Grandparent Program ($115 million);

-- Learn and Serve America ($97 million);

-- Retired and Senior Volunteer Program ($70 million);

-- Senior Companion Program ($55 million);

-- $12 million for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2014 for "the Silver Scholarships and Encore Fellowships programs";

-- $10 million a year from 2010 through 2014 for a new "Volunteers for Prosperity" program at USAID to "award grants to fund opportunities for volunteering internationally in coordination with eligible organizations"; and

-- Social Innovation Fund and Volunteer Generation Fund -- $50 million in 2010; $60 million in 2011; $70 million in 2012; $80 million in 2013; and $100 million in 2014.

Social Innovation Fund? If that sounds familiar, it should. I reported last fall on the Democratic Party platform's push to fund a "Social Investment Fund Network" that would reward "social entrepreneurs and leading nonprofit organizations" and "support results-oriented innovators." It is essentially a special taxpayer-funded pipeline for radical liberal groups backed by billionaire George Soros that masquerade as public-interest do-gooders.

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Especially troublesome to parents' groups concerned about compulsory volunteerism requirements is a provision in the House version directing Congress to explore "whether a workable, fair and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation and overcome civic challenges by bringing together people from diverse economic, ethnic and educational backgrounds."

Those who have watched AmeriCorps from its inception are all too familiar with how government volunteerism programs have been used for propaganda and political purposes. AmeriCorps "volunteers" have been put to work lobbying against the voter-approved three-strikes anti-crime initiative in California and protesting Republican political events while working for the already heavily tax-subsidized liberal advocacy group ACORN.

D.C. watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste also documented national service volunteers lobbying for rent control, expanded federal housing subsidies and enrollment of more women in the Women, Infants and Children welfare program. AmeriCorps volunteers have also been paid to shuffle paper at the Department of Justice, the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Legal Services Corporation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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(Now, imagine Obama's troops being sent overseas -- out of sight and unaccountable -- as part of that $10 million a year USAID/Volunteers for Prosperity program. Egad.)

One vigilant House member, GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx, successfully attached an amendment to the GIVE Act to bar National Service participants from engaging in political lobbying; endorsing or opposing legislation; organizing petitions, protests, boycotts or strikes; providing or promoting abortions or referrals; or influencing union organizing.

Supporters of GIVE/SERVE are now fighting those restrictions tooth and nail, screaming censorship and demanding the provisions be dropped -- which tells you everything you need to know about the true nature of this boondoggle. Taxpayers GIVE their money to SERVE a big government agenda under the guise of helping their fellow man. It's charity at the point of a gun.

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