The Senate returned from summer recess this week, and it’s got a long list of bills to work through. But in the education world, the big fight right now is just about to get underway. Politico took an in-depth look at how we education has brought the Democrats to the brink of all out internal warfare: A must-pass war spending bill being held up by emergency education funding initiatives, with a veto threat from President Obama already announced.
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin proposed a resolution that would take $800 million from Obama’s pet education reform projects, including Race to the Top and charter school funding, to help create a $10 billion fund to save 100,000 teachers’ jobs this fall. The White House hates the idea of even the relatively small trim from its marque effort, which has been panned by some as too heavily focused on testing and needlessly punitive, rather than supportive of teachers.
The most striking thing is we’re finally seeing what Obama will do when a program he cares about is threatened. According to Politico, before the recess, Obama asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make sure his education reform programs were protected from cuts. And then Obama announced that he’d veto any bill that took money away from his initiatives to pay for teachers’ jobs. A [collection of Democrats led by retiring Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh] (http://thehill.com/homenews/house/107191-education-cuts-in-war-bill-highlight-party-debate-over-obamas-school-reforms) announced its support for Obama, and urged Obey to back down.
But the way Obey tells it, the veto threat from Obama pushed many Dems in the House to vote for the resolution. “I think their veto threat helped us pass the amendment,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey, of Wisconsin, told Politico. “There are so many members of our caucus who think that this administration is willing to use members of Congress as cannon fodder. I think they were looking for a chance to send a message to the administration.”
As I wrote last week, the fight itself has been brewing for a while. Obey’s $10 billion emergency fund was whittled down from an original $23 billion proposal from Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has indicated that he’s not opposed to the education jobs fund, and even made appearances on the hill last week to show his support. He just doesn’t want it to hurt his own reform initiatives.
Nobody’s sure what will happen now, or who will make the next move. Members of the Senate have indicated that they won’t try to help teachers’ out without a little bit of give from Republicans. From Politico:
But as Congress returns this week, the greater danger is the overwhelming sense of drift. Asked Monday what the next step would be, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) was anything but certain. “I wish I knew; I really mean that,” he said in a brief Capitol interview.