When the House of Representatives’ Republican leadership chose Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) to head the Committee on Education and the Workforce in the 107th Congress, they had done their homework.
They knew the chairman they had selected would rely on his instincts for consensus-building and cooperation with Democrats to move legislation forward in a bipartisan fashion. They anticipated Boehner would take a bridge-building approach similar to that employed by his predecessor, Bill Goodling, and appropriate for the terms used by President Bush to describe his education proposals.
So it came as little surprise that Boehner, chosen to deliver the GOP National Radio Address on Inauguration Day, January 20, pledged to work closely with ranking Democrats to pass the President’s initiatives. He devoted much of the speech to praising Texas lawmakers who had worked in a bipartisan fashion to bridge the achievement gap for minority students.
Boehner acknowledged seeing the “first seeds of consensus” at a December meeting in Austin between then President-elect Bush and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. And he called on his colleagues to “follow the Texas example” as they deliberated over federal education policies.
Boehner’s own record demonstrates a commitment to local decision-making and parental choice. He sponsored a 1994 measure to allow school districts to use Title I money to support public school choice. In 1995, he supported eliminating the U.S. Department of Education and replacing it with a package of block grants to be administered by the states.
Boehner served as Chairman of the House Republican Conference from 1994 to 1998. It was in this capacity that he leveled a 1996 attack on the teacher unions, charging “public schools are in trouble because they are no longer run by the public” but by “big labor.” Boehner was replaced after two terms as Conference Chair by Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts and returned to the House Education Committee, on which he had served since he was first elected to Congress in 1991.
Boehner already has adopted a more conciliatory tone in his first few weeks as Education Committee Chairman. For example, in his January 20 radio address he spoke of the challenge confronting the new Congress:
The widening of the education gap between students rich and poor, Anglo and minority, is a national emergency–and like all national emergencies, it demands a united response. Democrat, Republican, and independent alike, we share the responsibility for crafting solutions that will serve the next generation of students.
One of Chairman Boehner’s first actions was to announce a restructuring of the Committee’s three education subcommittees. Representative Michael Castle (R-Delaware), former chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families, will chair the new Subcommittee on Education Reform, which will deal with pre-K-12 education. Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-California), who had previously served as chairman of the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training and Lifelong Learning, will head the new Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, which will focus on education and training beyond high school.
Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan), former chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, will chair the new Subcommittee on Select Education, which will address a range of specialized programs, including the School to Work Opportunities Act and programs for at-risk youth. Oversight responsibilities will be shared by all subcommittees, according to an official statement.
Committee Democrats also underwent a change in leadership as California Representative George Miller becomes ranking minority member on the Education Committee.
Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute. He can be reached at [email protected].