THE BILL by Steven Waldman


How the Adventures of Clinton's National Service Bill Reveal What Is Corrupt, Comic, Cynical, and Noble About Washington
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 A nifty case study of the tangled trail--from policy idea to law--of the bill that established the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, the program known as AmeriCorps. Waldman, a national correspondent for Newsweek, decided to adapt the magazine's ``inside story'' approach to presidential races and apply it to an examination of one campaign promise. He chose national service because he thought it typified Clinton's vision and tested his ``expansive idealism and aggressive pragmatism.'' Waldman's thorough narrative of the un-pretty process profiles policy aides, lobbyists, and bureaucrats to show how pressure and politics, more than logic, shaped the final bill. The centrist Democratic Leadership Council (which Clinton helped found) had long advocated a required national service that would be a civilian analogue of the military draft. But candidate Clinton sugared the plan by proposing a service corps made up of volunteers who would receive college-tuition aid. The mix of service and reward, of community obligation and governmental activism, stirred campaign audiences, but the proposal got little scrutiny. Clinton wanted a $9.4 billion program over five years, but he ended up with a $1.5 billion program over three years after the bill went through a Mixmaster of interests, including banks, students, unions, and veterans. Congressional debate, the author notes, focused on whether loans should be directed through universities rather than on the more complex issue of how long students should make percentage-of-income repayments. Nor was another vital Clinton interest--the role of national service in fostering diversity- -debated. Waldman deplores the follies involved but still finds the proposal a rare, even noble, federal endeavor. A more lively tale of early Clintonism than some of the recent overviews.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-670-85300-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994