House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.



Floor Statement

March 31, 2009

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
(202) 225-4527

McKeon Statement: Consideration of H.R. 1388, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act

Thank you, Mister Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 1388 and I yield myself such time as I may consume. 

This bill is largely the same as the GIVE Act, a bipartisan bill that this chamber passed overwhelmingly two weeks ago. 

The other chamber took up our version of the bill and made a few minor changes – including some that significantly improve the bill. 

I would like to address a few of the key Republican provisions that were in the House bill and still remain in this bill.  Additionally, I will discuss those improvements made by the Senate.

First, this bill still encourages the spirit of volunteerism – that great American trait – by updating decades-old national service programs for the 21st century.

We know that national service programs can work. In fact, in the last three years, more than 4 million service hours have been spent helping Gulf Coast communities recover and rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That’s 4 million hours of service made possible by the organizations – and the individuals – who choose to participate in national service.

But we also know these programs can be made stronger.

The House bill started us down the road by ensuring that taxpayer dollars are being used effectively and efficiently. 

This is important because national service programs are an investment in America’s future.

By design, the service and giving by individuals and organizations over time will be worth much more than the cost of the bill today.  

However, despite the great returns on this “investment,” the system must be held accountable. And it will be through regular evaluations and audits.

Another Republican priority reflected in this legislation is the creation of a new Veterans Corps. This new corps gives former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines a chance to serve this nation once again.

And it gives a chance for us to serve them.  

Of course, Republicans are directly responsible for many of the most critical parts of this legislation before us today.

Last week, we offered a Motion to Recommit to amend this bill. We did it in such a way that would ensure taxpayer dollars would not be used for activities that we – and many Americans – find objectionable.

We won that vote. And, as we negotiated with the other chamber, we insisted that the heart of these safeguards remain in place. 

Because of those negotiations, I can say that no federal money will be used to perform or promote abortions. 

No money will go to for-profit companies, campaigns or lobbyists. 

No money will be used to support voter registration drives. 

And no national service participants will replace employed workers or private volunteers working on a particular project.

The Senate also strengthened the motion to recommit from the 110th Congress through an amendment offered by Senator Richard Burr. That motion required criminal background checks for participants in the national service programs. Senator Burr’s proposal strengthened this provision by requiring mandatory FBI fingerprinting for certain national service participants.

The MTR approved by the House also prohibited recipients of funding under this Act from co-locating with organizations that engage in prohibited activities.

This was a thoughtful and well-intentioned provision intended to ensure that organizations that would otherwise be ineligible for funding would not be able to set up “dummy” non-profits in order to apply for funding.

Unfortunately, that provision would have had harmful unintended consequences on small charities and faith-based organizations that rely on larger, unaffiliated entities for office space.

Our intent was not to discriminate against small non-profits, faith-based organizations, or charities. That’s why we have revised the language to ensure that funding will never be used for the objectionable activities we have identified, but at the same time, smaller and faith-based organizations will not be cut out of these programs simply because of where their offices are located.

Finally, the other chamber included one more change. It added a sense of Congress that calls on us to preserve the income tax deduction for charitable contributions.

The national service programs depend upon substantial support from the private sector in order to work.

On top of that, if we are trying to inspire a spirit of volunteerism beyond this bill, we must provide incentives for corporations to keep up their charitable giving in these tough economic times.

Mister Speaker, I support this bill because Americans who step forward and say “I want to help” should be given the opportunity to do so.

This bill is largely the same as the bill this chamber overwhelmingly supported a few weeks ago. Republican ideas have been adopted in this legislation in both the House and the Senate and the bill – H.R. 1388 – is stronger because of it.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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