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Senate Votes to Drastically Expand AmeriCorps

The Senate on Thursday approved a major national service bill that triples the AmeriCorps program, despite concerns from some conservatives that it could allow politically charged groups to benefit from extra funding.  

The Senate voted 78-20 to increase AmeriCorps to 250,000 from its current 75,000 positions. The legislation is expected to cost $6 billion over five years. 

The House could take up the bill as early as Monday, sending it then to President Obama for his signature. 

The package, called the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, or GIVE Act, encourages a broad range of Americans to give back to their communities. It would create five groups to help poor people, improve education, encourage energy efficiency, strengthen access to health care and assist veterans. 

It had widespread support on both sides of the aisle, but a small group of vocal opponents say the bill not only spends too much but could increase funding for ideologically driven groups.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., initially tacked on an amendment to the House bill allaying such fears -- it prohibited for-profit political and labor groups that engage in legislative advocacy from receiving certain assistance under the plan. 

But conservatives cried foul after Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., submitted a substitute bill in the Senate stripping a lot of those provisions. 

"If we take the restrictions away, there's nothing keeping them from funding these kinds of groups," said Foxx spokesman Aaron Groen. 

Supporters say the program will yield benefits across the board -- assisting veterans, rebuilding homes and getting students involved in service, among other positives. 

Mikulski aide Rachel MacKnight said changes were made to the Senate version of the bill to earn "bipartisan support." 

But some conservative opponents are still not on board, saying the bill will allow taxpayer money to fund left-wing groups. 

Americans for Limited Government objected after the language in the Foxx amendment was taken out. 

"This is a bad deal for taxpayers, and there will be no way to enforce any prohibitions on the use of the funds once the money is in the coffers of the political organizations," ALG President Bill Wilson said in a written statement. 

The replacement language still prohibits participants from lobbying or organizing protests or engaging in other political activity. But ALG argued that government money could still end up funding those activities, since taxpayer funding could free up money elsewhere in the budget for political activities. 

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La, tried to submit an amendment this week restoring the provisions Foxx had sought, but the move was tabled. 

DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said the program is an example of "good intentions gone bad." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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