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Advice From Bennett and Alexander: Consolidate

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Washington

The House Republican leadership has turned to two former secretaries of education for advice.

Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who is likely to become the next Speaker of the House, has asked Empower America, which is headed by Lamar Alexander and William J. Bennett, to help draft education legislation, according to an official of the group. Mr. Gingrich sits on the board of directors of Empower America, a Washington-based conservative organization that promotes "new approaches" to such issues as education, crime, and health care.

"It's very preliminary, but I can say we all like the idea of giving states more autonomy and getting rid of regulations," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Ideas being floated include consolidating some programs--including the Title I compensatory-education program and the bilingual-education program, both of which were reauthorized this year in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Mr. Bennett, who served as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, has called on the new Republican majority in Congress to immediately identify "soft targets" for consolidation and budget cutbacks, including E.S.E.A. programs.

Even farther reaching, however, is discussion of reducing the Education Department to a skeleton staff headed by an "education czar."

"It's not a position we're taking, but a position we're considering," the Empower America official said.

Mr. Gingrich also said he and Rep. Dick Armey, R-Tex., have begun planning for the general transition of power from Democrats to Republicans.

Mr. Armey announced last week that he has secured enough votes to become the new House majority leader.

The former college professor is one of the most conservative members of the House Education and Labor Committee and has often sparred with the panel's Democrats.

Mr. Gingrich last week announced the formation of a team that will focus on the transfer of power in the House. Chaired by Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, the team will also make recommendations for action in the first 100 days of the next session, and on how the Republicans can best enact the legislation outlined in their "Contract With America."

Among the members of the 10-person transition team is Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who was elected to his third term. Mr. Boehner sits on the Education and Labor Committee and successfully attached a school-choice amendment to the recently enacted E.S.E.A. bill.

Committee chairmen will also be charged with looking at ways their committees can follow up on the contract.

Another new body, the Family Quality of Life Committee, will study ways in which the House is "an anti-family institution" for its members, Mr. Gingrich said. In particular, he said, the committee will look at ways to remake the Congressional schedule to parallel the school calendar.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., will chair the bipartisan committee, which will include members, their spouses, staff members, and children. The committee's recommendations are due in early December.

Welfare reform may be the first major policy issue on which the Republican-controlled Congress and the Clinton Administration seek consensus.

Last week, Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., who is in line to chair the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, outlined a proposal to turn over to states management of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food-stamp, and Nutritional Assistance for Women, Infants, and Children programs. In exchange, the federal government would assume responsibility for Medicaid.

In effect, the states could operate the three welfare programs free of federal rules.

Ms. Kassebaum made the remarks at a meeting sponsored by Empower America. The meeting also provided a forum for Mr. Alexander, a G.O.P. Presidential aspirant who was Secretary of Education in the Bush Administration. He has been touting a proposal to curtail Congressional pay and limit sessions to just a few months a year.

Asked last week if the G.O.P. transition team would consider such a proposal, Mr. Gingrich replied: "I think everything ought to be looked into. It's a time for bold, dramatic changes, and I don't reject it."

On the Democratic side, meanwhile, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Subcommittee on Children, Youth, and Families, is planning to seek the position of Senate minority leader.

Mr. Dodd will challenge Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., for the post. Sen. George J. Mitchell, D-Me., the outgoing majority leader, did not seek re-election to the Senate.

Mr. Dodd decided to pursue the job when Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., lost his bid for re-election. Mr. Dodd had backed Mr. Sasser, who was expected to be the leading candidate.

--Mark Pitsch & Robert C. Johnston

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