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Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, Key G.O.P. Moderate, To Retire in 1996

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Washington

Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the chairwoman of the Senate panel that handles education issues and a leading moderate voice on issues affecting schools and children, announced last week that she will not seek re-election next year.

Ms. Kassebaum, who became the first woman to chair a major Senate committee when she assumed the top position on the Labor and Human Resources Committee this year, was first elected in 1978. Her prior political experience consisted of three years as a school board member and a stint as a congressional aide. But she is also the daughter of Alf Landon, the former Kansas governor who was the 1936 GOP presidential nominee.

"My reason for this decision is very simple and purely personal," Ms. Kassebaum said at a news conference in the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. "I believe the time has come for me to leave the Senate and pursue other challenges, including the challenge of being a grandmother."

The departure of the well-liked Ms. Kassebaum paves the way for Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., to take the reins of the committee if the Republicans, as expected, retain control of the Senate after the 1996 elections. Mr. Jeffords, who served 14 years in the House before winning a Senate seat in 1988, is considered to be one of the most liberal GOP senators, and has a longstanding interest in education.

"Generally, there will be a welcoming of his chairmanship, at least on our side," said Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., a member of the education committee.

Pivotal Role

Observers said Ms. Kassebaum has been able to play a particularly constructive role in the Senate on education and other issues because of her moderate views and friendly relations with colleagues across the political spectrum.

When Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, Ms. Kassebaum often helped forge compromises between the two parties and the two bodies.

"She was very frequently the swing vote and took other people with her in support of education," said former Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich. "We were very thankful for her."

From 1991 to 1994, Mr. Ford headed the House Education and Labor Committee, the companion panel to Labor and Human Resources that is now known as the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. At that time, Ms. Kassebaum was the ranking Republican on the Senate panel.

Bill Frenzel, a guest scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution and a former House Republican, predicted Ms. Kassebaum's departure will lead to further partisanship in a Senate that has become more contentious in recent years.

"Nobody's retirement is a disaster, and we are all replaceable, but Nancy is very unusual in that she's kind of the peacemaker in the Senate," Mr. Frenzel said. "Everybody has just enormous respect for her. ... She's been able to draw people with divergent views together."

Mr. Frenzel said it will be difficult for Mr. Jeffords, or anyone else, to step in and fill the void, either within the party or on the committee.

Block Grant Plan

While she is not viewed as a harsh critic of federal education programs, Ms. Kassebaum has devoted her year as the chairwoman of Labor and Human Resources to giving control over some programs to the states.

Her legislation to consolidate some 90 job-training programs into a single block grant passed the Senate 95-2 and awaits a conference with the House.

She has also proposed a "youth-development block grant" that would consolidate 23 youth-oriented health, education, and crime-prevention programs.

And her proposal to create a single child-care block grant survived a House-Senate conference committee and was included in HR 2491, the massive budget-reconciliation measure that also carries proposals to revamp such programs as welfare and Medicaid. (See story, page 16.)

Ms. Kassebaum's criticism of the Clinton administration's direct-lending program for college students was a big factor behind the decision of conferees to include in the reconciliation bill a provision sharply limiting the size of the program.

Similarly, the moderate lawmaker's sponsorship of legislation to eliminate the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, which was to certify voluntarily submitted state academic standards and assessments under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, contributed to political sentiment against the council, which has yet to be seated.

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