The US House this afternoon gave final congressional approval -- and sent to President Obama for his signature -- a bill that would dramatically expand public service opportunities.
The legislation is named for Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who cowrote the initial version of it with sometime political ally Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Kennedy returned to Washington last week, in part to vote for the bill, and received a standing ovation from his colleagues at the conclusion of the vote.
“Today’s House vote again demonstrates the high priority Congress gives to encouraging citizens of all ages in all communities across America to participate in public service," Kennedy said in a statement. "This legislation will enable many more Americans to do something for their country to meet the many challenges facing us. I look forward to the President signing this bill into law so that a welcome new era of national and community service can begin.”
UPDATE: President Obama issued a statement applauding the bill's passage.
“I congratulate the House on passing the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. This is legislation that will usher in a new era of service in America, and I look forward to signing it into law when I return to Washington.”
“Because of this legislation, millions of Americans at all stages of their lives will have new opportunities to serve their country. From improving service learning in schools to creating an army of 250,000 Corps members a year dedicated to addressing our nation's toughest problems. From connecting working Americans to a variety of part-time service opportunities to better utilizing the skills and experience of our retirees and baby boomers. This legislation will help tap the genius of our faith based and community organizations, and it will find the most innovative ideas for addressing our common challenges and helping those ideas grow. But while our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, now it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities. I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also applauded the bill's passage.
"Just one month ago, in his address to Congress, President Obama called upon Congress to pass legislation 'to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations.' Today, The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act is on its way to his desk to become law," she said in a statement.
"In times of great challenge, Americans always rise to the occasion. In these times, our economy, our healthcare system, and our schools need the help of the generous Americans who are willing to serve. And in so doing, our volunteers will save lives, heal disease, and create brighter futures for our children. By creating 175,000 new service opportunities - more than tripling the number of volunteers nationwide, and rewarding those who volunteer with real investments in their education, we are launching a new era of service. This new era of service will create a stronger nation for all Americans."
At a cost of $5.7 billion over five years, the bill would triple the size of AmeriCorps, started in 1993 under President Clinton, from 75,000 to 250,000 slots over eight years. It would also expand incentives for students and seniors to volunteer and create five groups to create service options in helping poor people, improving education, encouraging energy efficiency, widening access to healthcare, and assisting veterans.
The House vote was 275-149, with all 10 Massachusetts Democrats supporting the measure .
The measure won bipartisan support, though some Republicans criticized it as unnecessary government involvement in volunteerism.
After the Senate passage last week, Obama said in a statement that "our work is not finished when I sign this bill into law -- it has just begun."
"It is up to each of us to seize those opportunities," added the president, who says his time as a community organizer in Chicago in his early 20s helped give his life direction. "To do our part to lift up our fellow Americans. To realize our own true potential. I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.