(Senate Floor – March 24, 2009)
"Mr. President, I wish to speak for few minutes on the Serve America Act. I think this is a great opportunity to talk about what is good about a lot of the Members of the Senate. I certainly appreciate and applaud the sponsors of this bill for their good intentions and know their hearts are in the right place. Some of my best friends are supporting this bill. But I think, as we look at what is good about the hearts of many Members of the Senate, we need to recognize this bill does represent a lot of what is wrong with our Federal Government today–a lot of our philosophies, and a lot of our departures from a Constitutional form of government.
What works in America today is our civil society–a lot of the volunteer groups that many of us have been a part of. I know for years I spent more time in United Way and a lot of the charity groups, being on their boards back in my community, and I saw what the volunteer arts groups and PTAs and health groups did to build a strong community. Civil society works in America. They are small groups. They are the true engines of character in our country. They promote service and patriotism. In this time where we have seen some of our economic institutions let us down, we have certainly seen our Government and our policies let us down, civil society does not let us down. It works in America today.
It is understandable why Congress would want to get involved. We see that passion to serve, that desire to do something that is greater than yourselves. We look at that working in our civil society and we want to get involved and expand it.
Unfortunately, our history shows us when Government gets involved, it tends to take something that is working and make it not work nearly as well. Civil society works because it is everything Government is not. It is small, it is personal, it is responsive, it is accountable. Civil society must be protected from any effort to make it more like Government.
That is what we are doing with this bill today. This bill centralizes control of important functions of our civil society. There is a downside to good intentions here in Government. The Founders created a limited government and our oath to support and defend the Constitution means that is our focus here. Our oath is to a limited government. The Founders wanted the people to be free from our good intentions. Government charity is anathema to what our Founders intended and what our Constitution stands for. Despite our good intentions, where we try to implement those good intentions and our compassion through the force of Government, we are effectively violating our oath of office here.
Well-intended legislation has left more than half of all Americans dependent on the Government. Today in America over half of Americans get their income from the government or a government source. About 20 percent of the country works for the government or an entity that gets its primary source of revenue from government. Another 20 percent gets their income and health care from Medicare or Social Security. Once you add in welfare and other subsidies, you make it so over half of all Americans are already dependent on the Government. This bill proposes to spend nearly $6 billion over 5 years, which means it will be probably $10 billion, probably more, over a 10-year period. It will have nearly a quarter of Americans working for it, which means it will be the 14th largest company, as far as employees, in the entire world.
What have we done here that suggests we can manage anything like that? Do you see anything in our history as a Federal Government that shows we have the ability to effectively manage something like that without extreme levels of waste and fraud and abuse? Look what we have done recently with the stimulus plan and the bailout plans. As soon as it comes to light what is actually happening with that money, people are outraged at what is going on. Despite the good intentions of this bill, we are creating a huge new government entity that will be unmanageable and violates some of the core principles of our civil society. Every time the Government steps in to solve a problem, it creates three new problems in its place.
This bill is everything wrong with how Congress sees the world. Government will make service organizations less effective, less responsive, and less personal. When the French historian de Tocqueville came to the United States not long after we were founded, one of the things that amazed him about our country that was so different from France was that in his home country when there was a problem, people would say: Someone ought to do it and government should do it; but in America we were different. When someone saw a problem, they went and got a friend and formed a small group and solved the problem themselves. Much of that was motivated by religious convictions that our place in this world is not only to help ourselves but to love and help those around us. That was key.
Jefferson called it little democracies, when he saw these little groups all around America voluntarily doing things to solve problems and make communities better. Burke called them little platoons. Most people who understand America know that those voluntary groups are what made our country great and what sustain us even today. Civil society binds communities, not by its fruits, but by its motives–charity, donations, giving without thought of getting anything in return. This is the selfless sacrifice that happens throughout America today. This is what works.
What does not work is what we are doing right here. The big difference is private service organizations exist for the people who receive the aid. Government service organizations exist for the people who give it–in this case, for the people who are paid to do it. You cannot pay people to volunteer and expect the organization to remain focused on its mission. Charity is a private, moral impulse, not a government program.
Government will not and, by definition, cannot strengthen and replace the civil society. Volunteerism is something that works in America. When we think of America, we do not think of Congress and Presidents, we think of Little League games and PTA meetings and bake sales.
Civil society is America. It responds to needs, meets challenges, and solves problems because it is free from Government. Because volunteers donate their time and money, accountability is acute. I have seen it. I have sat on a United Way board. Every year we evaluate every program and every dollar we have given to someone, and we determine is it working or can we make it more efficient.
If the program is not working, the money goes away immediately. That does not happen here. If the program does not work here, we add more money to it. That is going to happen with every program we start, including the one we are talking about today.
Projects that do not work in a civil society get cut. Organizers who lose or abuse funds are dismissed. It is voluntary. So everyone is invested in its success. We know the large groups throughout America, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the United Way, the Salvation Army, the YMCA, Catholic Charities, fraternal orders, groups such as Kiwanis, Rotary, Knights of Columbus. These are large organizations, but they work because they are locally controlled.
Smaller groups, local arts councils and community theatres, PTAs, youth sports leagues, the animal rescues, the book clubs, crisis pregnancy centers, soup kitchens, food and other clothes drives that go on, church service groups, they are everywhere.
Those are the little platoons, the little democracies that make this country work. For us to presume, in the Congress, that somehow we are going to reach out into all these groups and make it work better is pretty presumptuous based on our history.
Why now? Why at a time in economic crisis with unimaginable debt and spending do we come in and say: We need to spend another $10 billion over the next 10 years to create another Government program to do something that is already working.
At the same time, we are talking about creating this new bureaucracy to replace private voluntarism with Government programming. We are actually cutting some of the incentives for people to give to charity and for the private sector to work. The President’s budget actually cuts the charitable donations of the people who give the most to charity in this country. So look at what we are doing. We are making it harder for the private sector to work.
You also look at what we have done over the years, forgetting that a lot of private charity and the motivation to serve God and community is a religious-based motivation. What have we done in this country?
We have essentially tried to purge that motivation from our country. Most public schools, or at least a lot of them, used to sponsor Boy Scout groups. But after being sued for years because the Boy Scouts have God in their pledge and they set standards for their leaders that some do not agree with, the threat of lawsuits essentially means our Government schools have thrown out the Boy Scouts.
More than half our astronauts, half our FBI agents, a lot of the most successful people in this country were trained in the Boy Scouts to serve their community, where their character was developed. But this Federal Government has forced them out of public places. For years we purged religion from our society. Religion was the primary motivation for a lot of civic groups, a lot of services, a lot of charities, a lot of hospitals that were formed, a lot of schools.
But we have said that has no place. Because we have unleashed the ACLU and other groups to constantly sue and intimidate groups, that religious motivation has been moved, has been purged in many cases.
Now we are going to come in and help solve the problem we have created. We want to promote voluntarism, we want to promote community service, when what we have done over the last several decades is essentially tried to destroy the motivation for people to serve a cause that is greater than themselves.
We cannot replace private charity with Government programs. If we try, a lot of people are going to miss meals, suffer cold winters, and leaky roofs. I wish to go back to where I started. I appreciate the motivation, the heartfelt sense of compassion and the patriotism that I know my colleagues feel in sponsoring this legislation.
But I think we need to come to a point as a government that we recognize we cannot do everything. That is why we take the oath to the Constitution to defend and protect the very limited form of Government. This Congress, this Government, does not need to start or expand an organization to a quarter million people, when we are paying people to do work that we decided needs to be done and take those decisions out of the hands of millions of Americans who look around every day and see what they can do to make their families, their communities, and their country a better place to live.
These are not Government decisions. We need to focus on what we were set up to do and do it much better than we are doing, instead of every week coming in here, bringing our good intentions and our compassion and every problem we see across the country we say something needs to be done. Then we say: The Government needs to do it.
That is the fatal flaw of the Congress today, is we forget that sacred oath of office that says: We will protect and defend the Constitution which says this Federal Government has a very limited function. And those functions that are not prescribed in the Constitution are left to individuals and to the States.
This is a huge well-intended mistake we are making. It serves a point that we need to realize this Government needs to stop spending and stop borrowing, stop taxing, and let America work"