The November midterm elections created a new Republican majority eager to take control of the House of Representatives in January and a changing of the guard on every committee. Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the incoming House Speaker, has said that committee chairmen will have much more control and a great deal more bill-writing authority. Although many, like incoming Education & Labor Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., pledge bipartisanship, the party’s promise to enact spending measures unpopular with Democrats will make that difficult.
The Republican takeover of the House has also left education advocates fearing the worst. When lawmakers talk about reductions in nonmilitary discretionary spending, education is often near the top of the list. Among the biggest concerns is the future of the Pell Grant. Advocates worry that funding cutbacks will deprive millions of potential students the opportunity to seek higher education.
“The need to reconcile appropriations and revenue bills with congressional budget targets will force across-the-board cuts, which have never really worked well and have been miserable for education because there’s always a move to exclude nondiscretionary programs,” says Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “We simply don’t have enough money to pay for the nation’s commitments without substantial increases in taxes and cuts in what the government provides.”
Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., who sits on the appropriations committee, says he is adopting a wait-and-see attitude about the incoming committee chairs and their agenda. Fattah says, “I’m comforted by the fact that Senate Democrats have a very strong commitment to education, so I think there will be some reasonable compromises.”
Here is a look at what kind of changes can be expected:
Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisconsin)
“Both education and the budget are important, but it’s too soon to say where funding levels are going to go,” says Ryan, the committee’s presumptive chairman. “We won’t get a baseline from the Congressional Budget Office until late January, so I’m really not making comments until I have a budget in front of me.”
That said, Ryan will likely be at the head of the charge to roll back government spending to 2008, pre-stimulus levels. According to the GOP’s “Pledge to America” unveiled in September, such a plan would save $100 billion in the first year and close to $1 trillion over 10 years. Ryan, who is a member of President Barack Obama’s bipartisan deficit reduction committee, is expected to lead many debates over how to reduce the size of government. He and Obama will be on a collision path if the congressman pushes for cuts in education, research and development, and programs like the State Children’s Health Program.
Education & Labor
Rep. John Kline (Minnesota)
Kline tells Diverse that his top priorities include the economy, jobs, spending and taxes. Education looms large among those priorities, he says. “It is my belief that (education) is tied to jobs because, without a good education, it’s very, very hard to get a job.”
One of the committee’s most critical tasks is the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The conventional wisdom among political observers is that Kline will call for maximum flexibility for local school districts and states. Kline also opposes the Race to the Top program, which forces states to adopt federal preferences. He says he shares Obama’s desire to expand access to charter schools, but, unlike the administration, he’s a fan of vouchers. He says he’ll also work to reinstate the D.C. Opportunity voucher program that the administration eliminated. Kline has expressed excitement about working with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to close the minority achievement gap as well.
Kline acknowledges that the Pell Grant shortfall must be addressed, but says he has no idea where the solution lies. “There is a gap between what the government is promising and what it’s delivering, so we’re going to have to take it up. I hope we can work on this in a bipartisan way,” he says.
Science & Technology
Rep. Ralph Hall (Texas)
The Texas lawmaker says one of the first issues on his agenda will be the COMPETES bill, which provides funding for research and education programs at key federal science agencies.
“It’s a great bill, and everybody’s for it, but not for the money that (Democrats) put into it,” he says. “We’re going to lessen that amount of money by cutting the (lifeline of the grants) from five to two (years), if I’ve got the votes, and I think I will have.”
The National Science Foundation will likely experience some cuts as well, “although we’re going to be sensible about it, because it’s a major part of science,” Hall says.
In defending the science and technology cuts, Hall says that, while they are important programs, they can afford to take more of a financial hit than Social Security or the war effort.