Rep. Goodling Performs Balancing Act Between Politics, Personal Views

By Mark Pitsch — June 21, 1995 7 min read


Last November, when the new House Republican leadership blessed the ascension of Bill Goodling to the chairmanship of the committee that oversees education and workforce issues, his status in the party seemed tenuous.

Many observers wondered how the 11-term Pennsylvanian’s low-key demeanor, moderate views, and bipartisan political style would square with the conservative “revolution” proclaimed by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and a loyal cadre of 73 brash Republican freshmen--especially when it threatened the children’s programs Mr. Goodling had long championed.

But in his first six months as the chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, the 67-year-old Mr. Goodling has become one of the revolution’s first lieutenants.

Conservatives say he has earned his stripes by building coalitions among Republicans to approve legislation that may be at odds with his personal beliefs.

“He’s done a very good job of balancing a delicate situation,” said Rep. Mark E. Souder, R-Ind., a committee member and the vice president of the G.O.P. freshman class.

But observers also say that Mr. Goodling’s performance reflects pressure from the party leadership.

“I’m sure he doesn’t like a lot of what he’s doing,” Mr. Souder said. “Goodling knows that if he doesn’t do some reforms, it’s possible he could be [replaced].”

For his part, Mr. Goodling admits that there are “many philosophical differences” among the Republicans on his committee, but maintains that he is setting the education agenda in the House. The price of leadership, he said in an interview this month, is compromise.

“If you can’t do that, then you’re not a leader,” Mr. Goodling said. “Is there legislation that would have come out differently if I could’ve had my way? Yes, if I were a dictator.”

On the Right

The Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee--the new name the House G.O.P. gave to the venerable Education and Labor Committee--has reported out three big pieces of legislation in its first six months. In each instance, observers note, Mr. Goodling has suffered a challenge to his authority from someone on his political right.

As part of their “Contract With America,” House Republicans pledged to convert all federal food programs, including the school-lunch and -breakfast programs, into a single block grant and fund it at 95 percent of the aggregate amount spent on the individual programs.

Mr. Goodling--a former educator who had ardently defended the programs against Reagan Administration attempts to diminish them in the 1980’s--had jurisdiction over the proposal.

“I said, ‘No way,’” Mr. Goodling said, recalling a conversation with Speaker Gingrich about the plan. “Then he said, ‘Design it the way you see it best.’”

As crafted by Mr. Goodling, HR 999 would revoke the entitlement status of the meals programs and replace them with separate school-nutrition and family-nutrition block grants controlled by governors. He says it would provide for annual spending increases of 4.5 percent, although opponents dispute that assertion. (See Education Week, 3/29/95.)

“I won that round,” Mr. Goodling said proudly.

He also won praise from conservative colleagues.

“I heard Gingrich tell Goodling that the party’s going to be more tolerant of him because he was the first committee chairman to deliver on a controversial issue,” Mr. Souder said. “A lot of freshmen were pretty impressed with that.”

Speaker’s Influence?

But others paint a different picture. Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the panel’s Subcommittee on Children, Youth, and Families, said Mr. Gingrich’s office was “really in charge of that. They were flexing their muscle.”

Mr. Kildee said a representative from the Speaker’s office even sat on the rostrum during the committee’s consideration of the nutrition bill.

Mr. Goodling denies that. But Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., a committee member who has often been an ally of Mr. Goodling’s, said that aides from the Speaker’s office have attended committee hearings and mark-ups on various occasions--as they have with other House committees.

Whatever the true story behind the nutrition bill, the controversy that erupted over it clearly stung Mr. Goodling. Democrats, child advocates, and editorial writers slammed the proposal as a mean-spirited attack on poor, hungry children.

One of Mr. Goodling’s hometown newspapers, the York Daily Record, suggested that the chairman’s actions showed he had “abandon[ed] his commitment to children.”

“What a blow that is to somebody who’s spent 43 years working with children,” Mr. Goodling told a group of vocational educators in March. “It’s a very difficult time.”

Mr. Goodling has also presided over another block-grant plan, for vocational education. And again, he had someone watching over his right shoulder.

Vocational Education

In February, Rep. Bill Zeliff, R-N.H., introduced HR 1120, which would turn over federal job-training and vocational-education programs to the governors in the form of a single block grant. Speaker Gingrich and Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Budget Committee, signed on as co-sponsors. Republican governors also expressed their support.

Mr. Goodling’s bill, HR 1617, however, would create four separate block grants, including one incorporating vocational-education programs, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, and other youth-oriented programs. (See Education Week, 5/24/95.)

Despite some education lobbyists’ pleas to give school districts and community organizations primary control over this particular block grant, HR 1617 provides for control by governors, with input from chief state school officers, if appropriate, under a state’s constitution.

Arnold F. Fege, the director of government relations for the National pta, said the Zeliff bill “was a signal to Goodling to once again capitulate, this time to the governors.”

But Mr. Gunderson said HR 1617 is an example of Mr. Goodling’s ability to forge compromises, to neutralize “those who wanted to block-grant everything to the states and at the same time lead forcefully the efforts to consolidate the duplicative programs.”

Federal Role

The ultimate test of Mr. Goodling’s abilities as a political tightrope walker may be yet to come.

How, observers wonder, will the chairman respond to budget-cutters seeking to remove most of the federal role in education policy and dismantle scores of programs that he has helped shape for decades?

The battle lines were drawn last month, when the committee marked up HR 1045, which would repeal the National Education Standards and Improvement Council. The panel, created under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act to develop model national education standards and certify standards submitted voluntarily by states, has been widely criticized as a federal incursion on local control of education.

At that markup, Mr. Goodling was forced to use a procedural maneuver to quash an attempt by Rep. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., to add language revoking the entire Goals 2000 law. Mr. Goodling had to promise that opponents of federal involvement in education would have further opportunities to curtail it.

Their most obvious opportunity will come when the committee considers proposals to downsize or eliminate the Education Department.

Although Mr. Goodling said last fall that he hoped that issue would not “become the center of what we do,” it has become symbolic of conservatives’ desire to reduce the size of the government.

Mr. Goodling has supported a proposal by Mr. Gunderson to merge the Education and Labor departments. House freshmen, meanwhile, have prepared legislation that would kill the Education Department and most education programs outright. (See Education Week, 5/31/95.)

Many education advocates hope that this will be one instance where the chairman decides to hold his ground and fight.

Bill Goodling

Born: Dec. 5, 1927; Loganville, Pa. Education: B.S., University of Maryland, 1953; M.Ed., Western Maryland College, 1956; doctoral work, Pennsylvania State University, 1962 Military Service: U.S. Army, 1946-48. Career: Teacher, coach, and counselor, South Eastern School District, 1952-57; principal, West York Area High School, 1957-67; president, Dallastown Area School District board, 1966-67; superintendent of schools, Spring Grove Area School District, 1967-74; all located in York County, Pa. U.S. House of Representatives, representing 19th Pennsylvania Congressional District, 1975-present; chairman, House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, January 1995-present.

The Chairman’s Views on Setting Priorities:

“Unlike previous years, this committee will not base success on increased funding or creating new programs; the days of a new federal program for every problem are over. This committee will base success on innovation, efficiency, and quality. We must begin to view government as a helping hand, not an intrusive force that meddles into the affairs of states and communities.”

“We are, at the time, driven by the idea that we’ll be to a balanced budget by 2002. My hope is that, and my plea to the leadership is that, the authorizers should be the people determining how we get there. Not the Budget Committee. Not the Appropriations Committee.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 1995 edition of Education Week as Rep. Goodling Performs Balancing Act Between Politics, Personal Views