Armey Blasts Bush's AmeriCorps Plan
By Juliet Eilperin
In a rare break with the administration, House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) blasted President Bush's plan to expand a federally funded volunteer program yesterday, vowing to block it from becoming law.
Armey's critique of the proposal, which would add 200,000 new positions to existing community service programs, highlights conservatives' unease with the idea of government-sponsored volunteerism. House Republicans tried unsuccessfully to dismantle President Bill Clinton's AmeriCorps program, the very project Bush has suggested expanding.
"I do not understand why anyone would embrace AmeriCorps," Armey said in his weekly briefing to reporters. "I think the conceptual framework of AmeriCorps is obnoxious."
In his State of the Union speech, Bush proposed enlarging AmeriCorps and a related program, Senior Corps. Both provide volunteers with a stipend to perform such activities as running after-school programs and building housing for the poor. The plan would cost $560 million in fiscal 2003.
Democrats have praised Bush's plan. But Armey argued lawmakers should encourage private charity instead.
After being apprised of Armey's remarks yesterday, Bush said, "I think the country needs to provide opportunities for people to serve." Some conservatives were not willing to predict whether Bush's initiative would flounder. "When a president highlights an initiative . . . it's especially difficult for members of the president's party to rally their forces and defeat it," said Mike Franc, vice president for government relations at the Heritage Foundation.
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