United States president Bill Clinton has decided to take on Newt Gingrich, the new Republican House of Representatives Speaker, over opposition to his national service plan.
At a Martin Luther King Day rally, Mr Clinton said the $500-million programme, which encourages young people to do community service in exchange for government help in repaying their college loans, should be spared the Republican axe.
Mr Gingrich has made no secret of his opposition to the scheme since its introduction by President Clinton in 1993. He and other republicans voted against it.
In an interview with the magazine Newsweek last week, he said: "I am totally, unequivocally opposed to national service. It is coerced volunteerism. It is a gimmick."
Although he did not attack Mr Gingrich by name, President Clinton made clear this was an issue on which he parted company with the Republican Party and was prepared to fight.
"I was told . . . in this new Congress there may be a move to abolish the national service corps to save money to pay for tax cuts," he said.
He agreed on the need for leaner government and middle-class tax cuts but said the programme was not a bureaucracy and should be spared.
"The purpose of all this is not to wreck the government, not to give us a mean-spirited government, but to give us a lean government that will work with us to solve all our problems," President Clinton said.
While the president was speaking in Denver, Colorado, Eli Segal, the man in charge of Americorps, the national service programme, summoned reporters to the White House to tell them of the hundreds of community service programmes around the country.
The programme, which includes 20,000 young people, is not run from the centre, but was precisely what voters wanted, Mr Segal said -- a non-bureaucratic effort that "enables young people to give a hand to their communities, get a hand in paying for college and show all of us what is best in America".
Those taking part in the scheme work more than 1,700 hours a year on projects involving public safety, health, education, or the environment. They receive $4,725 a year for college in return.
Senior White House officials were amazed that the newspeaker had decided to take a stand on the issue.
"You have got to be able to provide incentives for volunteerism and that is what national service is all about," said a presidential aide. "It is a little bit difficult to understand tax credits as incentives, tax cuts as incentives, but not support national service."