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Tom Delay quietly trying to kill Americorps
Tom Delay quietly trying to kill Americorps
Delay quietly trying to kill Americorps
May 3, 2004
by Douglas Turner
After furious months of pleading and lobbying, the friends of AmeriCorps late last year won their campaign to persuade President Bush to keep his promise.
However, what the president and Congress openly offer with one hand they can quietly take back with the other. Here's how it works in the era of compassionate conservatism:
Early on, Bush had pledged to back the Clinton-era program that created AmeriCorps, the model for a stateside Peace Corps. In Buffalo, AmeriCorps is best known for delivering food to the "Response to Love" pantry operated by a Felician nun named Sister Johnice.
AmeriCorps workers, making all of $10,000 a year, also do child care and tutor kids with reading and math problems, mostly in poor neighborhoods.
The program's very existence had been threatened by Clinton- hating conservatives in Congress who used a technicality in 2003 to begin suffocating AmeriCorps financially. But with a tough presidential election looming, the White House and the Republican- controlled Congress did a reverse and promised to more than double AmeriCorps funding.
On paper, AmeriCorps will get $440 million this year, with the money supposed to start flowing in mid-summer.
The ink on the legislation was barely dry when Republican leaders went through the back door with a finely tuned plan to starve the program some time after election. On April 5, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and three of his lieutenants sent a letter to the federally chartered corporation that runs AmeriCorps, the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Unable to strangle AmeriCorps in the open on the House floor, DeLay & Co. want to do it with fine print, by regulation. DeLay and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and two key GOP House committee chairmen sent regulatory "requests" to the corporation. These requests have the force of orders.
The leaders want the federal share of workers' pay progressively cut back. They want to reduce the annual salary level at which workers qualify for child care to below the current $6,000 a year. They want to curtail the number of years a full-time worker can receive federal aid. They can now receive it for three years. The leaders want to pare down health care provided for AmeriCorps workers.
Finally, they want the corporation to have more power to kill off agencies that operate local AmeriCorps programs.
Their vision of AmeriCorps is a group of young people who don't need to be paid even $10,000 a year, or need child care, or health care, or need to be recruited by a supervising organization that receives federal funds.
If AmeriCorps is to be tolerated at all, DeLay & Co. want it privatized. We're back to "A Thousand Points of Light" -- which will be snuffed out one at a time.
When it comes to charity, DeLay has markedly different ideas from delivering food to the needy or teaching latch-key kids how to read and count. DeLay operates a controversial fund called "Celebrations for Children." It is chartered by the Internal Revenue Service in exactly the same way as the United Way. The IRS code says none of the proceeds may be used for partisan political purposes.
Yet at least a fourth of all proceeds of DeLay's fund for children will pay for a variety of special goodies for big donors at the National Republican Convention in New York City at summer's end. These special benefits are sure to assuage any convention-goer's worries about ghetto children who might need someone to look after them or teach them, or a less-than-privileged young person who might be looking for a way to serve his country.
The offerings include "luxury" hospitality suites in Manhattan for conventioneers, yacht cruises, parties before and after President Bush's acceptance speech, tickets to Broadway shows and a golf tournament at a Bethpage, L.I., golf course, according to complaints made to the IRS and the House Ethics Committee by Demoocracy21, a non-partisan interest group.
So far, the IRS hasn't laid a glove on DeLay's charity. Nor has the House Ethics Committee, which stopped taking complaints from outside groups like Democracy21 seven years ago. The IRS and Ethics Committee, like many people here, find DeLay a daunting, if not terrifying, figure.
From DeLay's standpoint, the recent retirement announcements by centrist Republicans Reps. Amo Houghton of Corning and Jack F. Quinn of Hamburg are a bonus. They were among the dwindling number of Republicans who dared to stand up to him. Incidentally, they led the fight to restore AmeriCorps funding.
Because of the rigged reapportionment in Texas, DeLay is unlikely to need their votes to return to the majority next January.