Congress is awash in bills seeking ways for Americans to volunteer and shine in what President Bush calls a "thousand points of light."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that such bills may help build "the volunteer spirit that pervades our country." The comment came late last week as the Senate Labor Committee - on which he is the ranking Republican - began hearings on eight national service bills.Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the fact that eight such bills have been introduced so far in the Senate and 12 in the House show that "the `me decade' is ending."
Hatch said, "President Bush will soon send to Congress his initiative, entitled Youth Engaged in Service (YES). . .. The president is committed to this effort, and it is best expressed by his own words . . . `From now on, the definition of any successful life must include serving others.' "
Of special Utah interest, the YES program is one of the areas that Utahn Steve Studdert, an aide to Bush, will oversee. Among his many assignments is to find ways to increase national service.
Not all the bills discussed in committee Thursday are for non-paid volunteers. For example, two bills (sponsored by Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Daniel P. Moynihan, D-N.Y.) essentially seek to resurrect differing versions of the old Civilian Conservation Corps to hire the unemployed or disadvantaged to make improvements to public land.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., proposed a "National Guard" type program where people could serve in community projects for two weekends a month and two weeks a year for three to six years, and in return receive a $3,000 voucher each year for use in education or for a first home.
Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., proposed a somewhat similar "Corp for National Service" that adults could join for a year for a variety of service projects to earn up to $12,000 a year for education or down payment on a home.
Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., proposed a Peace Corps-type organization that would serve at home in the United States instead of abroad.
Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., proposed a program to cancel student loan debts for those willing to work in the Peace Corps, VISTA or any tax-exempt, non-profit organization.
Kennedy and Sen. Bob Graham, R-Texas, sought different programs to provide grants and training for qualifying volunteer programs in schools.