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GOP's zero-sum game

"GOP's zero-sum game" Continued...

Issue: "Urban mission fundraising," Sept. 27, 1997

Other senators, however, were unwilling to grant that testing was a done deal in the upper chamber. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) bucked the Republican leadership and took the floor to warn his colleagues that national testing "could lead to a one-size-fits-none national curriculum dictated from Washington.... The real test before us today is whether or not the president is willing to trust parents and teachers at the local level to determine what their children should learn."

Rep. Goodling believes that fears of a testing juggernaut in the Senate were exaggerated, and that Sen. Coats's original amendment could have passed, had the leadership stood by it.

A later education vote supports the view that conservatives in the Senate were stronger than they realized. By a vote of 51-49, senators shocked the Administration by passing an amendment that would gut the budget of the Education Department. Introduced by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), the bill takes $13 billion out of the hands of federal education bureaucrats and gives it to the states in the form of block grants. That money could then be spent as local schools saw fit rather than as Washington dictated.

Though President Clinton immediately threatened to veto the entire appropriation bill over the Gorton Amendment, conservatives were elated.

"This has the effect of banning all the programs conservatives have been upset with for a long time," Mr. Farris said, singling out Title IX, Goals 2000, and School-to-Work as examples. "The White House will now have to negotiate not just on national testing, but on whether any of these other programs will survive. They'll have to offer to sacrifice at least some of these programs."

A more likely scenario is that the Gorton Amendment itself will be sacrificed by the conference committee. With only a two-vote margin, it has no hope of surviving a Clinton veto anyway. Rather than mounting a hopeless effort to override, Republicans would likely agree to drop the Gorton Amendment if the Administration will swallow the Goodling Amendment and give up on the president's dream of national testing.

All in all, the education appropriation process has been a lesson in basic math. The president wants to add to the Education Department; Congress threatens to subtract; and the net change is zero. For Republicans, who've been in disarray much of the year, zero in this case looks like a lot.

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