The Senate voted 74-14 to cut off debate and proceed on a national service bill that reauthorizes the AmeriCorps program and sanctions $5 billion over five years to add volunteers to targeted service areas.
Ticking off the names of inspiring public servants such as retired Gen. Colin Powell and Special Olympics founder Eunice Shriver, lawmakers said the measure would capture a newly inspired public that is hungry to serve in local communities.
“We can really be able to embark upon a major initiative to be able to meet the compelling needs of our society,— Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said just before the floor vote. “Its passage is important now when so many communities are struggling with so many pressing problems, and so many people want to serve.—
The bill is co-sponsored by Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), political polar opposites who have forged a close working relationship over their years of service together in the Senate. The bill creates five service corps targeting health care, education, energy veterans and the poor, as well as a Congressional commission on civil service.
The House overwhelmingly approved a similar bill last week, 321-105. A small number of Republican critics decried the legislation as a costly measure to spark service, which private groups perform without the encouragement of government.
The Senate will continue debate on the measure Tuesday, with a vote on final passage to follow at some point this week.
President Barack Obama called on lawmakers to approve the measure during his February address to a joint session of Congress, saying it would “encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations.—