A group representing the 73 House Republican freshmen announced their intention last week to work toward ending federal involvement in education and abolishing the Education Department.
A day later, Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., offered a proposal that would retain a federal presence in education by merging the department with two other agencies. (See related story.)
Mr. Gunderson’s proposal, which could serve as middle ground between the freshmen and their allies and defenders of the status quo, illustrates the way Republican moderates may seek to broker compromises on(See ducation policy in the coming months.
“We want to redefine this debate,” said Mr. Gunderson, who has long been viewed as a leading moderate voice on the House panel now known as the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. “I told the freshmen I don’t mind someone on my right suggesting elimination because all of a sudden it makes my proposal look very reasonable.”
The support of moderate Republicans has often been crucial to the passage of education legislation, including several Clinton Admininstration initiatives. They played a particularly important role in defending education programs when the Reagan Administration--aided by a G.O.P. majority in the Senate--sought big cuts in the early 1980’s.
The moderates are likely to play a similarly prominent role this year, as the Republican-controlled Congress is expected to again consider various forms of legislation that would curtail federal involvement in education. Although the Republicans now control both chambers, they have only a 53 percent majority in each--enough to push through legislation but not enough to override a veto.
And almost all the new leaders of the committees with direct jurisdiction over education programs are considered moderates and friends of education interests.
“I think we’ll be critical,” said Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities.
“Republican moderates, if they are anything, they are pragmatic and they are problem-solvers,” Mr. Gunderson said. “Republican moderates would say, ‘Let’s work out the problems to maintain the basic goal.”’
They are already trying to influence the debate.
At his first hearing as the subcommittee chairman, Mr. Jeffords--who has championed resolutions calling for a commitment to increased federal education spending--asked corporate officials to testify on the need for high standards in American schools.
“The key to our future is economic success, and I think Republicans recognize that,” he said. “If we don’t increase our educational capacity, we’ll be a second-rate nation in the next century and our standard of living will continue to go down.”
Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., a former educator who is the chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, said he has impresssed upon the House leadership the importance of gauging the effects of education programs before subjecting them to the budget ax.
“My side oversimplifies how easy it is to fix things,” said Mr. Goodling, who in the past has often served as a mediator between Republican administrations and his colleagues on Capitol Hill.
- Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., attended a White House news conference earlier this year to praise AmeriCorps, the national-service program that has been under fire from Republicans. He later sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to other House members defending the program. (See related story, 02/15/95
A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 1995 edition of Education Week as G.O.P. Moderates Seen Playing Key Policy Role