G.O.P. Begins Reign, Makes Changes in Panels
Congress ushered in a new era last week as Republican majorities assumed control in both the House and the Senate for the first time in four decades.
The Jan. 4 ceremonies--and a flurry of floor action on House rules reforms--launched at least two years of G.O.P. rule in which the very notion of an active federal government, including its role in education, will be called into question.
"Reining in our government will be my mandate--and I hope it will be the purpose and principal accomplishment of the 104th Congress," said the Senate majority leader, Bob Dole of Kansas.
The reorganization of the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities illustrated the transfer of power.
Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who will chair the committee formerly known as Education and Labor, announced the elimination of one subcommittee and the creation of five others.
In much the same way that incoming Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich pledged to reform the House, Mr. Goodling promised to bring more order and efficiency to the committee, and to bring change to federal education programs by focusing on local decisionmaking and quality.
"There is no one in Washington who has ever encountered this enormity of change," said Michael Edwards, the interim director of governmental relations for the National Education Association. "Every aspect of education policymaking is going to have to be re-evaluated and thought through again."
In the Senate, the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, chaired by Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., has undergone less drastic change than Mr. Goodling's committee. The full Senate, by the same token, has embarked on a more deliberate, less ambitious schedule than the House, which hopes to enact the Republicans' 10-point "Contract With America" within 100 days.
The most obvious signals of change in education policy are coming from Mr. Goodling's committee.
At an organizational meeting last week, the panel formally reorganized its subcommittees and elected their chairmen--all of whom were junior members of the committee in the 103rd Congress.
A new party rule prevents an individual Republican member from chairing more than one committee or subcommittee at a time. While some more experienced members left the committee entirely, other senior members, such as Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., remained on the education panel but assumed subcommittee chairmanships on other committees.
"I really feel bad about not getting Gunderson," said Bruce Hunter, an associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, referring to a key moderate voice on education matters. "He knows the issues, and he cares about the issues. Not that the [new] subcommittee chairs don't, but they don't have the experience."
"This is new to me, and I'm going to be learning as I go," acknowledged Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., who will head the new Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training, and Lifelong Learning.
"It says in the Scriptures that you don't put old wine in new bottles," said Mr. McKeon, a former school board member who is now in his second term. "Experience counts, but sometimes it's good to have new people in there."
Divisions of Labor
Republicans say the reshuffling of subcommittees reflects an attempt to divide jurisdiction over programs based on which constituent groups the programs serve. The lineup is as follows:
Mr. McKeon said in an interview that he has no specific agenda, but will be guided by his desire "to see more decisions made, educationally, at the local level."
This subcommittee is most like the former Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, with jurisdiction over K-12 education programs, preschool programs such as Head Start, juvenile justice, poverty programs, child care, and nutrition progams.
Most House committees except Education and Labor already had oversight committees, which serve as watchdogs for federal programs under the committees' jurisdictions and review the workings of federal programs at the local level. Creation of an investigatory panel dovetails with Mr. Goodling's promise to review the efficacy of existing education programs.
The panel will also subsume the oversight role of the Subcommittee on Select Education and Civil Rights, which has been eliminated, but it will not report legislation.
Two other subcommittees will focus on labor issues.
Mr. Goodling acknowledged the irony of assuming House stewardship of federal education programs at a time when some members of his party are suggesting the federal role in education be eliminated.
"This isn't the best time to become chairman of this committee," Mr. Goodling said. "We're going to have to find out how to do better with less [money]."
Moreover, Mr. Goodling's tenure as chairman will last a maximum of six years as a result of rules changes adopted by the House last week. And another rules change prohibits members from allowing chairmen to vote for them in their absence. Reductions in committee staff sizes will also somewhat decrease the clout of chairmen--but they will hire all the committee's aides, rather than following the practice of allowing subcommittee heads to select them.
Mr. Goodling pledged that the committee's hearings will begin promptly at 9:30 A.M. and end by 12:15 P.M. He also said he will forbid opening statements by members in an effort to give witnesses more time to speak.
After hearings this week on the federal role in education and workforce policy, the committee will turn to the Contract With America issues under its jurisdiction, particularly welfare reform. It hopes to report legislation by the end of February.
Subcommittees will then begin reviewing federal education and workplace laws.
Over all, the committee gained seven freshman Republicans and six more experienced new members, including Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Tex., who sponsored a school-prayer amendment during the 103rd Congress. Four junior Democrats left the panel, but one new Democrat joined it. It will have 19 Republicans and 16 Democrats.
In the Senate, the Committee on Labor and Human Resources underwent less severe changes. Two subcommittees--Employment and Productivity, and Labor--were eliminated. The name of the Subcommittee on Children, Families, Drugs, and Alcoholism was shortened to Children and Families.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., left the committee, while four new Republican senators joined it. It will have nine Republicans and seven Democrats. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the former chairman, will be the ranking minority member.