Sen. Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican who played a central role in negotiating adoption of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act, announced last week that he would step down as the chairman of the Senate panel that oversees education policy. Instead, he’ll take up the Budget Committee’s gavel.
Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., was widely expected to succeed Mr. Gregg as the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
At a Nov. 10 press conference in Washington, Sen. Gregg cited in part his keen interest in “maintaining fiscal responsibility” and “reducing the deficit” in the federal budget as motives for the switch.
But this isn’t the last the capital will see of him on education.
“I intend to remain a member of the [education] committee,” Mr. Gregg said, according to a transcript of the event. “I look forward to working with Senator Enzi, who I presume will be the new chairman, on especially issues of heath and education, where I’ve tried to make a mark and be constructive.”
The move comes at an important time for education policy. Speculation is growing that Congress may pursue some modest changes to the 3-year-old No Child Left Behind law next year. Further, the education panel holds jurisdiction over other laws that are overdue for reauthorization, including those for the Head Start program, vocational education, and higher education.
But one big item may be off the committee’s agenda by the time the 109th Congress opens in January. Lawmakers were close last week to completing work on a bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
A Bipartisan Record
Sen. Gregg became the education committee’s top Republican in 2001, when Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont surprised his colleagues by announcing plans to quit the GOP and become an Independent. That decision suddenly tipped the Senate’s balance of power to Democrats, who gave Mr. Jeffords the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
After Republicans regained their majority in the 2002 elections, Sen. Gregg, known as a pragmatic conservative, became the education panel’s chairman. (“Gregg Brings N.H. Ways To Chairmanship,” Jan. 8, 2003.)
As the committee’s leading Republican, he has had a record of cooperation with Democrats on education policy. He worked closely with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the committee’s senior Democrat, on the No Child Left Behind Act, and the two have cooperated more recently on other bills, such as special education and Head Start legislation.
Sen. Gregg is a “skilled legislator,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for the liberal Massachusetts senator. He said that Sen. Kennedy “has appreciated his willingness to work together on a bipartisan basis.”
Mr. Manley added that Sen. Kennedy was confident that he could also work well with Sen. Enzi.
Mr. Enzi, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996, was out of the country last week. But his press secretary, Coy Knoebel, issued a statement Nov. 10 saying that the Wyoming Republican is next in line in seniority to assume the HELP Committee’s chairmanship and wants the job.
Mr. Knoebel noted that Republican members of the panel would have to vote to approve Sen. Enzi, but that “tradition and seniority” indicate he would get the nod. That vote would then have to be ratified by the entire Republican caucus.
Asked about Mr. Enzi’s pending assumption of the helm, Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators, said he was pleased.
“He’s conservative,” Mr. Hunter said. “Wyoming Republicans are conservative, but he is very pro-public education, because that’s about all there is in Wyoming.”
He added, “I know the current and former superintendents in Gillette,” where Sen. Enzi hails from. “Everybody thinks highly of him, and had a good relationship with him.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2004 edition of Education Week as Gregg Leaving Chairmanship of Senate Education Panel