A moderate Republican was chosen to succeed Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kans.) next year as chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, the Senate panel responsible for education, when the GOP cleared the way for Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) to claim the committee’s top spot.
Education advocates had braced for a possible battle for the leadership slot between Jeffords, who has a liberal-to-moderate record on domestic issues, and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who has less seniority on the panel but more conservative credentials. But on December 3, Goats announced he would not seek the chairmanship after conferring with GOP leaders.
“It is important, particularly at this moment, for Republicans to be united as we approach the new session of Congress,” Coats said. “We have new leadership and a unique opportunity to advance a Republican agenda.”
Nonetheless, Coats said he will play a major role on the panel to ensure it reflects core Republican ideas. “I will continue to play an active role to ensure that the Labor Committee and its leadership reflect the mainstream of Republican conviction,” Coats said. Less than two weeks later, he announced he would not run again for his senate seat.
The GOP had to select a new leader for the Labor panel because of Kassebaum’s retirement. As a senior Republican on the Labor committee, Coats may end up chairing the panel’s subcommittee on education, which will do the bulk of the early work on the Higher Education Act’s (HEA) reauthorization.
Jeffords and Coats differ on some issues, particularly President Clinton’s direct lending and national service programs used by college students. Jeffords supports both programs, while Coats has criticized the initiatives.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Republicans are having trouble filling vacancies on the House panel that will oversee HEA reauthorization. The Economic and Educational Opportunities (EEO) Committee still has four GOP vacancies, even after the party tried to recruit incoming freshmen.
One of the four vacancies occurred when Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), a senior panel member, left to claim a spot on the Appropriations Committee that sets spending for hundreds of federal programs. During the last Congress, Cunningham chaired the EEO subcommittee responsible for public schools and early childhood programs. “The Appropriations Committee is the most powerful committee in the House,” said Lori Gulakowski, a Cunningham spokesperson, explaining the congressman’s decision.
Cunningham plans to continue work on education as part of the Appropriations panel, she said. Among those in line to succeed Cunningham as subcommittee chairman are Reps. Michael Castle (R-Del.) and Frank Riggs (R-Calif.), both of whom are about to start their third terms in Congress.
The departure and continuing vacancies also are signs that lawmakers often prefer other assignments to education. EEO also will lose a senior Democrat, Rep. Thomas Sawyer (D-Ohio), who is moving to the Commerce Committee.
EEO has a post-secondary education subcommittee, where Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) is expected to return as chairman. This subcommittee will do much of the early work on HEA reauthorization. Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.) will return as EEO chairman, with Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.) serving as senior Democrat.
New Republicans on the EEO committee are representatives-elect Ron Paul (Texas), John Peterson (Pa.) and Bob Schaffer (Colo.). New Democrats tapped for the panel are representatives-elect Ruben Hinojosa (Texas), Carolyn McCarthy (MY.), John Tierney (Mass.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) and Harold Ford Jr. (Tenn.).
The Senate will announce new committee appointments soon.
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