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GOP Control Will Spur Change, Experts Say

GOP Control Will Spur Change, Experts Say
By Charles Dervarics

The decisive Republican victory in the November mid-term elections will have major implications on issues ranging from higher education to civil rights, advocates say.

Republicans will re-claim control of the U.S. Senate, making it the first time in half a century that the party controls both the White House and both houses of Congress. The GOP also added to their majority in the House of Representatives for the new Congress that convenes in January.

“They’re fully in command,” says J. Noah Brown, public policy director for the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT). “Clearly, the president has a mandate now.”

Long-term effects may be seen from presidential appointments to the future of higher education funding.

On civil rights, Republican victories may lead to a long-term appointment for Gerald Reynolds, assistant secretary of education for civil rights. Many civil rights groups and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., held up confirmation of the conservative Reynolds, which prompted the White House to install him on a temporary basis through a process known as a “recess appointment.”

Reynolds’ short-term appointment ends with the current Congress, but a Republican-controlled Senate now is likely to approve a long-term confirmation.

With conservatives in charge of both the House and Senate, “we likely are at a time of extreme peril for civil rights and liberties,” says Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights based in Washington, D.C.

A GOP-controlled Senate also is more likely to approve conservative appointments to federal judgeships, including any Supreme Court vacancy.

“With Congress now in the hands of far-right ideologues, there is little that stands in the way of the White House’s goal of packing the federal courts,” Henderson says.

Some polling data suggested that African Americans voted in smaller numbers than in past years, prompting some leaders to call for changes in the top tiers of the Democratic Party. Black voter turnout on Nov. 5 was about 40 percent, similar to the last mid-term election but below the 2000 presidential election, says the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

Elsewhere, the election results are likely to affect nearly all aspects of federal policy from budget and financial aid to welfare reform.

For example, the White House and House Republicans favored a freeze in the maximum Pell Grant for 2003, while the Democrat-controlled Senate wanted an increase. The Bush position may get more attention once Congress returns in Jan-uary.

On welfare reform, where Republicans want more work requirements and Democrats favor more education options, the GOP position may win out, Brown says.

Yet others cautioned that moderate Republicans may hold the key. Moderates favor more work requirements only if there are additional support services, possibly including education and childcare, says Shawn Fremstad, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A “tighter budget” — with less money and less will to provide support services — still may help the Democrats’ cause, he says.

For Black colleges, both parties favor at least modest increases in federal support for minority-serving institutions. The Bush administration favors a 3.6 percent funding increase for HBCUs next year. Senate Democrats proposed slightly more money, but prospects for a large increase — such as one proposed by House liberals earlier this year — may continue to languish on the back burner.

One major change in the Senate will be at the committee level, where Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is likely to take over the education panel from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. The move is significant since the nation’s main postsecondary law, the Higher Education Act, comes up for a required review in the next session of Congress.

Gregg has worked in a bipartisan fashion with Kennedy on many issues, Brown says. However, Republican control of Congress may lead to a broader discussion about the costs and benefits of federal investment in higher education. “Accountability is on table now,” he adds.

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