Federal File

December 04, 2002 1 min read

Senatorial Hell?

The scene shows President Bush talking about the recent midterm elections.

“One final word to the American people: You gave me the Republican Senate I asked for, and I won’t let you down,” he said. “And, to Senator Jeffords of Vermont: Welcome to hell.”

Wait a minute. The president said what?!? Well, actually, it was comic Chris Parnell playing Mr. Bush for a recent episode of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” But as they say, good comedy is generally rooted in truth.

After the Nov. 5 elections, instant speculation put Sen. James M. Jeffords, I-Vt.—whose decision last year to quit the GOP tipped Senate control to Democrats—in the doghouse, sure to face retribution from his formerly fellow Republicans.

Both TheNew York Times and The Washington Post ran stories with that angle. Forget about getting money for that new bridge in Vermont, the Times said (or that new chemistry lab for the University of Vermont).

“I was a little worried that I’d find my desk out on the street the day after the election,” Erik Smulson, a spokesman for Sen. Jeffords, told the Times.

Before his switch to the Independent label, Mr. Jeffords chaired the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Even then, his influence with the Republican majority was limited. “In practical speaking, I wasn’t chairman,” he said last year, “so that’s one of the reasons I moved over.”

Mr. Jeffords, given the reins of the Environment and Public Works Committee when Democrats took over, said this month he expects to stay on the education panel. “I’m far enough up in seniority,” he said. “I want to stay on, and I’m sure I will.”

He probably didn’t help his standing with Mr. Bush when he introduced a bill recently to amend the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. It would allow states a break from Mr. Bush’s prized testing mandate if they made enough progress on student achievement. But that plan faces a near-certain death.

One of the senator’s top causes, meanwhile, is to shift federal aid for special education from the discretionary to the mandatory side of the budget and lock in spending hikes for years to come. That idea also is unpopular at the White House. Such a measure was defeated last year.

With the GOP in charge, the mandatory-spending plan likely faces even tougher odds, whether or not Mr. Jeffords spends some of his diminished political capital on it.

—Erik W. Robelen

A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2002 edition of Education Week