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Fighting words

Last week's release of the White House plan to revamp the main federal K-12 education law quickly renewed partisan discord between members of Congress and the Clinton administration. And two of the players who have sparred frequently during the Clinton administration already seem to be gearing up for another round.

Last Thursday, Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, and Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, let their tensions boil over during a hearing on flexibility in federal education programs.

The two outspoken lawmakers, who have a long history of friction, had just listened to a panel of witnesses plead their cases for less federal regulation. But while Mr. Goodling promised to do his part to ease federal red tape, Mr. Miller argued that schools should be held more accountable for performance.

When it came his turn to ask questions of the five witnesses, Mr. Miller instead berated them for blaming the federal government for their problems. "How about holding yourself accountable to the parents?" he asked in an impassioned speech.

When Mr. Miller's five-minute time limit for speaking ended, he kept talking, and Mr. Goodling soon began tapping his gavel to get his attention--to no avail.

Visibly angry, Mr. Goodling began banging the gavel more loudly. But Mr. Miller didn't stop talking. Instead, in a sarcastic aside, he taunted: "Why don't you bang it one more time?"

"The next time will be on your head," Mr. Goodling retorted, and he threatened to have the sergeant-at-arms remove Mr. Miller from the room.

Order was finally restored when Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., calmly asked Mr. Goodling to justify his threat to have Mr. Miller removed.

"I've been on this committee for 23 years, and we've always gotten along well," Mr. Kildee, one of the committee's more subdued members, told the panelists. Mr. Goodling and Mr. Miller later offered apologies, and the committee members continued with business.

The May 20 hearing on the GOP's "Straight A's Act" was held the day after the White House released its proposal for reauthorizing the ESEA. The Straight A's proposal differs greatly from President Clinton's plan in that it would give states much more flexibility in exchange for accountability.

--Joetta L. Sack [email protected]

Vol. 18, Issue 37, Page 20

Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as Federal File

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