National Service Corps Bill Clears Senate Hurdle

Following overwhelming House passage last week, the Senate tonight voted 74 to 14 on a procedural move that essentially guarantees a major expansion of a national service corps, a cornerstone of volunteerism that dates back to the era of President Kennedy. It’s akin to a call to arms by President Obama, who has harkened back to those early days to demand giving back by those who voted for him.

In fact, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the senior Democrat from Massachusetts whose battle with brain cancer has oft kept him absent from the Senate these days, appeared on the floor to welcomes all around as he cast his approving vote as a co-sponsor.

From President Kennedy’s days to the creation of Americorps by then President Bill Clinton, the notion of public service has become a rallying cry. Tonight’s vote, propelled by President Obama’s urging of an expansion, would mean a growth in such work from 75,000 community service jobs to 250,000.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of the Senate bill at least would be an outlay for the fiscal year 2010 of $418 million to about $5.7 billion from 2010 through 2014.

It’s an historic vote in the sense that a national service corps, an army dispersed to help with education, health services and the environment, would vastly enlarge the notion of “community organizing,” and allow, as Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, said tonight, for about 7 million people to be engaged in such work.

The bill enjoyed extraordinary bipartisan support, including namely the major co-sponsor, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, who tonight even recommended reading the biography of R. Sargent Shriver, relative by marriage to the Kennedys and who directed the original Peace Corps from 1961 to 1966.

In addition, Senator Hatch mentioned that the Rev. Rick Warren, the evangelical minister of Saddleback Church and author of “A Purpose Driven Life,” was an enthusiastic supporter of this effort, as was Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential nominee. The latter’s support, to Senator Hatch, demonstrated the exceptional bipartisan backing of the expansion.

Eleven senators did not cast a vote. The 14 Republicans, some of whom cited the cost in voting against the proposal, are: Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas, James Bunning of Kentucky, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Michael Crapo of Idaho, Jon Kyl of Arizona, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, John Ensign of Nevada, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Jim Risch of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, both of Alabama, Tom DeMint of South Carolina and John Thune of South Dakota.

Our roll call, thanks to Derek Willis.

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