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Originally published Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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House supports service programs

The House on Wednesday voted to approve the largest expansion of government-sponsored service programs since President Kennedy called for...

The New York Times

The day in D.C.

Medical marijuana: Attorney General Eric Holder signaled a change on medical-marijuana policy Wednesday, saying federal agents will target marijuana distributors only when they violate federal and state law. That would be a departure from the Bush administration, which targeted medical-marijuana dispensaries in California even if they complied with that state's law. Thirteen states, including Washington, permit medical use of marijuana.

Trade rep confirmed: The Senate on Wednesday confirmed former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk as the U.S. trade representative. He faces his first test on the U.S. border with Mexico, where the Obama administration's cancellation of a pilot trucking program prompted retaliation by Mexico, which has imposed trade tariffs on 19 U.S. goods.

Gun warning: Sixty-five House Democrats said Wednesday they would oppose any attempt to revive a ban on military-style weapons that President Clinton signed into law in 1994 and President George W. Bush let expire.

Seattle Times news services

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday voted to approve the largest expansion of government-sponsored service programs since President Kennedy called for the creation of a national community-service corps in 1963.

The legislation, which passed by an overwhelming vote of 321-105, would more than triple the number of service positions by expanding AmeriCorps and creating volunteer programs focused on education, health care, clean energy and veterans. The total number of positions would grow to 250,000 from 75,000 now in AmeriCorps.

The Senate is expected to adopt a nearly identical bill next week.

The action by the House came three weeks and a day after President Obama in his first speech to a joint session of Congress called for "a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations," and lawmakers said they were answering his challenge.

The expansion of AmeriCorps would cost nearly $6 billion over five years.

Obama praised the House vote. "At this moment of economic crisis, when so many people are in need of help and so much needs to be done, this could not be more urgent," he said.

Critics expressed concern about the cost, and some said the money could be better spent, perhaps on raises for members of the military. A single Democrat joined 104 Republicans in opposing the bill; 251 Democrats and 70 Republicans voted for it. All members of the Washington delegation voted for the measure, except Republican Doc Hasting.

In addition to expanding the number of positions, the bill would also raise the education stipend for volunteers to $5,350.

Kennedy's service program was called VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America. The House bill is the GIVE Act, for Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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