Comparing the Two National Service Plans

It's certainly true that Obama's national service plan is about a hundred times more detailed than McCain's. But to be fair, McCain does have a record of leadership on national service, albeit one that focuses much more on the military and organizations that promote military values (obedience and patriotism) than on the social justice model with which Obama, and the left in general, is associated. Yet in 2003, as President Bush cut tens of millions of dollars in AmeriCorps funding, costing the program 39,000 jobs, McCain and Jack Reed led a bipartisan group of 48 senators who opposed the move, and pushed for a $200 million appropriation to support service programs.

That is the backdrop against which we must evaluate Obama and McCain's service plans, released yesterday. On one hand, we have Obama's personal history in community organizing. On the other, McCain does have a history of support for AmeriCorps and more widespread military service. So both men ought to be held to a high standard on this issue.

How do the plans fare? They have much in common in terms of stated goals, from bringing middle-aged professionals into the teaching profession to including service as part of federal work-study requirements for college students. Obama is proposing a more specific change of moving from 7 to 25 percent of work-study opportunities encompassing community service. And as Adam mentions, Obama has an aggressive plan to give students up to $4,000 annually for college tuition if they perform 100 hours of community service; McCain is offering nothing nearly as generous.

Both want more retirees participating in service, though Obama promises to reward them with greater access to health coverage and other benefits in return. And both want to create more venues for successful service programs to expand and share tactics with others across the country. But while McCain is calling for fairly unsophisticated "Volunteerism Summits," Obama is advancing a truly ambitious, two-prong proposal. First, he would support innovation in the non-profit sector through rewarding service organizations with the kinds of grants private companies currently receive for research and development. Second, he would create a government-supported non-profit corporation to work directly with philanthropists and non-profits on social change, prioritizing public-private partnerships.

On care and educational opportunities for veterans — as well as changing military policy to end longer and longer deployments — Obama is much more comprehensive and willing to spend much more money than McCain. That's no surprise given McCain's history of voting against veteran benefits.

Does McCain include anything Obama doesn't? Yes. He mentions, briefly, increased service opportunities for the disabled community. And he also wants to allow faith-based organizations to discriminate in their hiring without the risk of losing federal funding.

As you can see, the devil is in the details, and that is where Obama's plan seems much better thought-out than McCain's.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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