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AMERICORPS IS NICE TRY, BUT . . .

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AmeriCorps is a nice program, but its niceness should not count as a sufficient argument for its continued existence.

Clinton advocated the national service program when he campaigned for president. Congress made it a reality. It got started about a year ago and now some 20,000 AmeriCorps members work for local non-profit groups throughout the nation, helping to do such things as deliver food to the elderly, clean up neighborhoods and construct low-income housing. They're paid roughly the minimum wage and receive a $4,725 education grant after a year on the job.There's nothing strikingly objectionable here, except that more and more Americans have come to understand that the federal government must have some limits and that, if it doesn't, if it incessantly piles one worthy-seeming project on top of another, we end up where we are today, with a Leviathan, bureaucratic establishment that taxes us dearly, stifles liberty, endangers the economy and warps a national ethos that once stressed self-accountability and private initiative.

At the moment, in its efforts to set things aright and ultimately balance the budget, a seven-year prospect at best, Congress has already voted to turn welfare over to the states and seems bent on Medicare reductions. Compared to such programs, AmeriCorps is a luxury. If it happens to be Clinton's pride and joy, it is also a reminder that we have been running our federal affairs for at least 60 years now without any criteria about where to stop the doing and spending.

The Senate was right the other day to reject an amendment that would have restored AmeriCorps funding in the 1996 appropriations bill. Yes, AmeriCorps is a nice program - about $577 million worth of niceness this past year alone - but it's time some nice programs started finishing last.