Former Maryland congressman and Democratic hopeful John Delaney announced his intention Sunday to institute a mandatory national service plan as president, calling for “big transformational change,” in an attempt to “restore our sense of shared purpose.”
Several 2020 candidates, including Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have proposed national service initiatives tied to college tuition or job training, but Delaney’s ambitious proposal, which would provide up to three years of free college tuition for those who participate in public service projects, is the first to mandate youth participation in service.
The proposal adheres closely to his initial national service plan, released in April, which offered high school graduates the opportunity to enlist in the military, pursue community service projects, participate in infrastructure apprenticeships or join a newly-formed “ClimateCorps.”
But instead of offering voluntary service, it would be compulsory for all Americans upon high school graduation or upon turning 18. The proposal would apply only to those born after 2006, and would phase in over time, according to the campaign. The plan would provide two years of free tuition at a public college or university, and three years of tuition for those who extended their national service year to two years. Tuition could also be applied to vocational or technical training, the Delaney campaign told reporters.
Delaney’s plan would be deployed through an act of Congress, campaign spokesman Michael Hopkins told CNN in an interview Saturday.”This is why presidents have bully pulpits, and so he fully intends to use it to pass this kind of transformational change.”
“There’s certainly going to be people who don’t want to do it,” Hopkins acknowledged, in a nod to the uphill battle legislation would face in Congress. “But this is also about appealing to a greater good and trying to bring the country back together. And I would be really interested to see who would be willing to go on the record and say that they don’t think that we need national service.”
The US military operated a mandatory draft to fill vacancies in the armed services from 1940 until it was suspended in 1973, but the federal government has still required all men between 18 and 25 to register with the Selective Service, and the federal government reverse the right to reinstate a draft in the case of a national emergency.
Still, the campaign was careful to note that Delaney’s proposal did not constitute a draft, pointing to “three other paths for Americans to serve,” outside the military.
As for paying for his national service plan?
“Yeah, I mean, it’s going to be expensive,” Hopkins told CNN. “But you know, when you’re pushing transformational change, you find ways to pay for it. I mean, budgets are moral documents, so you can prioritize whatever you want. We’re the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world. We will find a way to pay for it, because it’s that important.”
In a CNN/SSRS poll released July 1, Delaney was among a group of candidates polling below 1 %.