Republicans Press for Action on Bush's Reform Bill

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Washington--The ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee has lambasted his Democratic colleagues for delaying action on the President's package of education-reform legislation, charging that they were motivated "purely by partisan politics."

Over the protests of an angry Republican minority--led by Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania--the committee's elementary, secondary, and vocational-education subcommittee voted 14 to 8 along partisan lines last week to postpone a markup of HR 1675, President Bush's "educational excellence act of 1989."

Democrats argued that a postponement would give them time to study a compromise package of amendments to the measure worked out by Mr. Goodling and Representative Augustus F. Hawkins of California, the committee's Democratic chairman, to make the bill more palatable to Mr. Hawkins.

Mr. Hawkins said a markup could be rescheduled within three weeks, but Republicans charged that the postponement was a delaying tactic designed to defeat the measure.

"Let's be honest," said Representative Steven Gunderson, Republican of Wisconsin. "You don't need more time. Those are just pretty words for saying 'Let's kill it."'

But a Democratic staff aide who was present at closed-door negotiations prior to the markup said that the consensus among opponents of the measure was that there were not enough votes to defeat it.

The aide said the move to postpone was also prompted by Democrats' reluctance to damage bipartisan cooperation and by calls from the party leadership to avoid creating a perception that the Democrats are opposed to education reform.

'Bending Over Backward'

The legislative package, which was introduced by the Administration last April, includes provisions to reward outstanding schools and teachers, to aid districts in providing alternative routes to teacher certification, and to extend magnet-school aid for the first time to districts that are not undergoing desegregation, a provision that would be deleted by the compromise amendments.

The Senate passed a revised version of the bill this year. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1990.)

But the Education and Labor Committee has so far held only one hearing on the bill, prompting Republicans to charge that the Democrats are engaged in "election-year grandstanding" designed to keep the proposals off the panel's agenda.

Mr. Hawkins, an outspoken critic of the initiatives, said he scheduled last week's markup to accommodate the Republicans' concerns, as voiced by Mr. Goodling, with whom he has a close professional relationship.

"I was bending over backward to give the Administration a chance to document their case," he said after the hearing. "And they didn't do that."

But Mr. Goodling said in an interview that he would not seek a rapprochement with Mr. Hawkins on the issue, and expected the chairman to attempt a reconcilation.

"I spent a year compromising and gave everything there was to give,'' said Mr. Goodling. "I haven't talked to any of [the Democrats], and I don't wish to speak to any of them at this point."

As a measure of their frustration, committee Republicans, including Mr. Goodling and Representative Steve Bartlett of Texas, threatened to petition the full House to have the bill taken out of the panel's jurisdiction.

Aides met late last week to discuss alternatives to the amended version of the bill supported by Mr. Goodling and Mr. Hawkins. One aide said a new proposal could be introduced as early as this week.

Closed-Door Session

The vote to postpone came after a lengthy debate during which Republicans and Democrats traded charges without ever debating the merits of the bill.

"The whole thing was strictly a partisan politcal effort [driven] by fear that the President may get some credit" for education reform, Mr. Goodling asserted.

But while some Democrats said they were willing to consider the initiatives in the context of recent developments, others said the bill provided little substantial aid to education. They added that they were willing to vote the measure down.

Representative Carl C. Perkins of Kentucky charged that the proposals amounted to a "fig leaf" designed to cover the inadequacies of the President's efforts to improve education.

Republican tempers were initially triggered by a 45-minute delay prior to the markup, during which Democrats huddled in a closed-door session.

Mr. Hawkins said the session gave Democrats a chance to air their views on the measure and on the proposed amendments.

The amendments, designed to address Mr. Hawkins's major concerns about the bill, included a provision that would ensure a minimum level of spending on Chapter 1 programs before any money could be appropriated for two of the Bush programs.

But Mr. Hawkins later said that, while the proposed changes allayed some of his concerns about the measure, he still had "reservations" about the bill generally.

Republicans anxious to debate the bill's merits, however, were stymied when Representative Major Owens, Democrat of New York, moved almost immediately for a postponement of the markup.

Mr. Owens said the committee needed time to determine how the proposal fit into recent developments in education reform, such as the goals set forth by the White House in consultation with the nation's governors.

Others, such as Representative Matthew G. Martinez, Democrat of California, argued that they needed time to ponder the compromises forged by Mr. Goodling and Mr. Hawkins. Mr. Martinez said that the amendments were made available to his staff only the day before the markup was scheduled.

Representative Peter Smith, Republican of Vermont, said the vote to postpone sent a message to the public "outside the [Capital] Beltway" that "partisanship won and children lost."

Vol. 09, Issue 25

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