As a result of Republican wins in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, several changes are forthcoming in the makeup of party leadership and Committee Chairmen. The Republican party now holds at least 51 seats, a two-seat majority and a net gain of three seats in the Senate. The control of the seat currently held by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will be decided in a run-off election between Landrieu and Republican Suzanne Terrell in December. In the House, Republican will control at least 228 seats, only two less than when they were first swept into power by the “Contract with America” platform.
The most dramatic change in makeup is found in the Senate where Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), will act as majority leader. Lott has pledged to adopt a more collegial, cooperative style in his role as majority leader. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) will return to his role as minority leader. In the House, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) will remain speaker of the house while Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) will take over for retiring Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX). On the Democratic side of the aisle, the shakeup was more pronounced. Relinquishing the minority leader post he had held since 1989, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO) will be replaced by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi, who previously served as minority whip, is the first woman in either the House or Senate to hold such a high leadership position.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) will preside over the Senate Appropriations Committee and is considered to be similar in style to outgoing chairman Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV). According to CQ Weekly, “Both take a bipartisan approach to moving appropriations legislation, and they are passionate defenders of congressional spending prerogatives.” Stevens, along with every Republican on the committee, supported then-chairman Byrd’s $769 billion funding ceiling for this year’s total appropriation, a number $20 billion more than the President requested. However, from 1997 to 2001, the last time Stevens presided over the committee, he produced spending bills in line with the tight levels imposed by the Republican budget resolutions.
Taking over for outgoing chairmen Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) will now control the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Gregg is one of the more conservative senators on the HELP Committee, but has been more than willing to work with Kennedy on many education issues, including the No Child Left Behind Act.
During the new Congress, the HELP Committee is expected to begin work on the reauthorization of several important education programs, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including the Higher Education Act, the Head Start pre-school program, and the Carl Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. Gregg told Education Week that he and Sen. Kennedy were “reasonably close to an agreement on IDEA before the break” and hopes that they can “pick that up and continue it.”
Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) is expected to become the new chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, taking over the helm from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND). During this session of Congress, Sen. Conrad included a $5.4 billion increase over the President’s budget request for education programs. Sen. Nickles, on the other hand, is a well-known fiscal conservative and might be “even more aggressive than the White House in seeking to restrain non-defense spending in the fiscal 2004 budget,” according to CQ Weekly.
Outlook for Education in the New Congress
For education, the most dramatic impact will most likely be felt in education spending. When the Democrats held a majority in the Senate, they often set the higher spending number for education programs in negotiations with the House and the President.
For the next two years, it appears that members of the House and Senate will be taking their spending cues from President Bush. Just weeks after the election, the President’s influence over spending levels is already apparent. On Nov. 15 House Appropriations Committee Chairman Young and his Senate counterpart Stevens met with President Bush. At the meeting, Bush reiterated his wish that Congress stick close to his fiscal 2003 budget request of about $750 billion.
After the meeting, Congress passed a continuing resolution that would fund the federal government at existing levels until January 11, 2003. This move allows Republican leaders to put off work on unfinished spending bills until they control both chambers of Congress. The spending measure passed 270-143.
In addition to continuing government operations, the resolution provides $500 million for the creation of a Homeland Security Department and gives the administration the authority to transfer an additional $140 million from unobligated balances in other accounts to the new department. It also extends some welfare benefits into next year, but would not provide additional highway or education money sought by many members.
When Congress returns in January, members plan to try to quickly clear up the spending impasse. After the Republican takeover in the Senate and further gains in the House, Democrats are in a much weaker position to challenge the White House. In the words of Rep. David Obey (D-WI), top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, “If the country elected a Republican Congress, then they have to expect to get a Republican budget.”
In an article for the New York Times, Diana Jean Schemo writes the Republican party also expects to expand some of the key themes of the No Child Left Behind Act, most notably, an increased emphasis on tracking the success or failure of educational programs through standardized testing and increased accountability for schools. According to Schemo, Congress is likely to maintain its insistence on results and accountability when it begins work on the reauthorizations of the Higher Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
New Members Bring Education Credentials: A Partial List
Several new members of the 108th Congress have education backgrounds, including a university dean, college professor, or high school teacher. In addition, other new members who may not have an education background made education a prominent issue in their campaigns.
Perhaps the most well-known member-elect among the education community, Sen.-elect Lamar Alexander (R-TN) served as U.S. Secretary of Education to former-President George H.W. Bush. During his campaign, Alexander touted a program from his days in the Cabinet called the “G.I. Bill for Kids,” a school voucher proposal that would give $250 “scholarships’ to allow middle-income and low-income children to attend any accredited school.
Considered a shoo-in to replace his mother, retiring Rep. Carrie Meek, Rep.-elect Kendrick Meek (D-FL) spent a great deal of his campaign working to ensure the passage of Florida’s class-size reduction initiative. While serving in the state Senate, Rep.-elect Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) was well-known for his strategy for bringing plenty of education dollars to his home county. A former law professor, Rep.-elect Frank Balance Jr. (D-NC), has said that education will be his top priority, with a particular focus on reducing class size and recruiting better teachers in particular.