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Armey opposes AmeriCorps expansion

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's plan to expand the AmeriCorps program might hit some roadblocks on Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Dick Armey said Tuesday.

"The idea that government can teach charity to America rings very hollow with me," the Texas Republican told reporters.

"I do not understand why anybody would embrace AmeriCorps. I consider just the structural framework of AmeriCorps as obnoxious."

Bush said he is asking for a boost in AmeriCorps funding as part of a national strategy to bolster public service in ways that enhance homeland security and not necessarily to promote volunteerism by voucher.

"I think the country needs to provide opportunities for people to serve, expanding AmeriCorps, expanding Senior Corps -- it's a good way for Americans to fight evil," Bush said during a tour of the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Medical Center.

"And there's all kinds of opportunities: Senior Corps is one opportunity, AmeriCorps is one, church, synagogue or mosque programs are another." In his State of the Union address last week, the president proposed spending millions of dollars to expand the number of AmeriCorps volunteers from 50,000 to 75,000.

The program, geared to young adults, pays a stipend in return for involvement in programs such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

AmeriCorps is to fit into a larger service organization called USA Freedom Corps, which also would include a Senior Corps and a Citizen Corps to move volunteers into areas of service that enhance security through work with police, fire, emergency rescue and other agencies.

The budget also would boost funding for the Peace Corps and dispatch a majority of the new volunteers to Islamic nations.

Ideological differences

Many conservative Republicans have opposed AmeriCorps for years.

"When the Democrats got a Democratic president, [AmeriCorps] was one of the first things they rammed through Congress," Armey said. "It was not a good idea then and it's not a good idea now."

"My own view is that America is a nation of great charity," he said. "We give best when we give what's in our own hearts. We give least well when we give at the direction and supervision of the government."

The president said he did not believe Armey's opposition would prove decisive.

"I think Congress understands that we need to provide opportunities for teachers to teach in the inner city schools and seniors to provide homeland defense volunteer activities," Bush said.

"The key thing, the key point I was making in my speech is that many in the country are asking how they can help, how they can help fight terror," the president said.

"And one way to do so is through acts of kindness and compassion and decency. And the good news is, a lot of Americans are responding."

A senior administration official said the White House "respects" Armey's views, but it would work with moderate Republicans and Democrats to secure funding for AmeriCorps.

"This is not the first time we've disagreed with Dick Armey," the official said. "It won't be the last."




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