12:22 PM EST
Jim McDermott, D-WA 7th

Mr. McDERMOTT. Mr. Chairman, when Katharine Lee Bates wrote ``America the Beautiful'' in 1893, I believe her poetic lyrics were intended to express the goodness of the American people as much as the natural beauty of our great Nation. America was founded on the concept of helping one another, and that selfless spirit expresses itself in countless acts of goodness by ordinary Americans every day.

I want to harness that American spirit, and I want to make it a part of the American experience. Mr. Farr, Mr. Walsh, and Mr. Shays have joined me in putting this amendment together, and we had a bill previously, because we believe that making this possible for every American is really where we ought to be.

We all benefit in countless ways from a Nation that is our home. I believe we owe something in return. But there are countless ways for every American to serve and give back to America, and America certainly could use their help. That's why we put this together as an amendment to establish a Congressional Commission on Civic Service.

We want this commission to investigate ways to create a broader commitment to national service in order to strengthen our common sense of responsibility to our community, our Nation, and to each other.

The commission would hold hearings around the country to engage the American people and get their own ideas. Whether it's in schools or nursing homes or prisons or mental hospitals or in the forests or cleaning up beaches or whatever, we want to talk to the local people. The commission would report to Congress with recommendations on how to harness the power of one, that is, the power of American people to improve our Nation.

Our amendment is a first step. It is simply an authorization, and the Congress will need to follow up with an appropriation. It mirrors the legislation we introduced last year, H.R. 1819.

Throughout the process, we have worked closely with some of America's best organizations: Voices for Service Coalition, the National Peace Corps Association, Corporation for National and Community Service, and the State AmeriCorps Administrators.

President John Kennedy once said: ``Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.'' From that came the Peace Corps and other organizations similar, and we want to recreate that sense of American expectation in this time. With this amendment we want to help America answer that question and the call.

Today America needs the American people like never before to meet the challenges of a slowing economy, health care, education, conservation. The government can't do it all, and ordinary Americans can and in many cases already do much of it.

It's time to build on the success of our national service programs like AmeriCorps by considering bold proposals that compel, inspire, and enable us to tackle the challenges, big and small, that will always confront us. There is no shortage of ideas.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.