GIVE ... until it's mandatory?

I’ve received a lot of e-mail over the GIVE Act, the new $6 billion boondoggle for voluntary national service.  It’s a bad plan, with its five-year cost projection looking like a very odd idea in a time when Capitol Hill has screeched over $165 million in contractual compensation for people doing actual jobs.  The boss rightly attacks GIVE for the bad and bipartisan idea that it actually is:

Maybe it’s just me, but I find federal legislation titled “The GIVE Act” and “The SERVE Act” downright creepy. Even more troubling: The $6 billion price tag on these bipartisan bills to expand government-funded national service efforts. Volunteerism is a wonderful thing, which is why millions of Americans do it every day without a cent of taxpayer money. But the volunteerism packages on the Hill are less about promoting effective charity than about creating make-work, permanent bureaucracies, and left-wing slush funds.

The House passed the “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act” – or the GIVE Act – last week. The Senate took up the companion “SERVE Act” Tuesday afternoon. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate bill, S. 277, the bill would cost “$418 million in 2010 and about $5.7 billion over the 2010-2014 period.” And like most federal programs, these would be sure to grow over time. The bills reauthorize the Clinton-era Americorps boondoggle program and an older law, the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973.

The programs have already been allocated $1.1 billion for fiscal 2009, including $200 million from the porkulus package signed into law last month. In addition to recruiting up to 250,000 enrollees in AmeriCorps, the GIVE/SERVE bills would create new little armies of government volunteers, including a Clean Energy Corps, Education Corps, Healthy Futures Corps, Veterans Service Corps, and and expanded National Civilian Community Corps for disaster relief and energy conservation. And that’s not all.

Michelle goes on to list some of the notable recipients of these funds.  Be sure to read the entire column.

But the tenor of the email on this has not focused on the waste of money GIVE represents in a time when federal revenues will fall dramatically from their Bush-era highs, thanks to the flopping economy.  People attack GIVE as compulsory national service, which it isn’t.  Gateway Pundit has been calling it the “Hitler Youth Act”, which is unfair and historically inaccurate.  GIVE funds voluntary organizations and does not create a compulsory cult-of-personality organization.

It does, however, contemplate mandatory national service, commissioning a study to determine:

(6) Whether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation and overcome civic challenges by bringing together people from diverse economic, ethnic, and educational backgrounds.

Again, in fairness, this is neither new nor particular to Democrats.  Misguided politicians from both parties have argued for some sort of national service that would encompass a military draft and options for civilian service as substitutes for it.  Most of these came shortly after the end of the draft in the early 1970s.

Lately, though, the idea seems to come more from Democrats, who used to oppose the notion of compulsory service on grounds of individual liberty.  Barack Obama talked about a “civilian national security force” during the campaign, but retreated when he received criticism for it.  Variations of this idea have floated around for months, including the creation of an infrastructure labor force that would displace businesses in public-works projects and so on.

It’s a bad idea.  The GIVE Act is a bad idea on other grounds, too.  Republicans have an opportunity to stand for individual liberty and the limitation of government control over the lives of young people across the nation by opposing GIVE’s new study and all talk of compulsory service.  Ask college-age students how they feel about taking two years out of their post-educational lives to dig ditches and build bridges not because they want to do it, but because it will become illegal to refuse.  I suspect they will start Google-mapping the best routes to Canada — or stop voting for the people proposing to enslave them.

Update: Moe Lane tackles an aspect of the emails I neglected, that of the GIVE Act’s limitations on political and religious activity while in volunteer service.  Again, if the service is voluntary, then that’s less of a problem for me than if it’s mandatory.  I do agree with Moe that whoever wrote GIVE doesn’t trust college students very much.