June 30, 2010

I've got a bad feeling about this, Obey

So Rep. Obey (Wisconsin) is proposing to pay for a $10B boost to school districts in part by stripping hundreds of millions of dollars from RTTT and TIF? According to Ed Week reporters, the total offset from this move would be about 8% of the total cost, less than $1B, so I don't really buy Obey's argument that jobs come before reform programs. This looks much closer to opportunism than either addressing GOP objections on fiscal grounds or making the GOP back down sufficiently to get a bill through without offsets.

I'm not thrilled with some aspects of the offset targets, but there's something in this game of legislative chicken that doesn't smell right. I understand the principle of legislative sausage, and this is one move in a much larger policy and politics game. Nonetheless, there are a number of reasons why this filing of an amendment may be close to a thumb in the eyes of a number of federal players:

  • Burning bridges with states. This throws a few tons of egg yolk onto the face of state officials who cajoled school districts into working with them on RTTT proposals. They understand politics, but this is a particularly pointed move a few weeks after the second round of applications were due.
  • Burning bridges with the Senate. Yeah, I know, members of the House have little love for the Senate right now, but if I were in the House and saw HELP (education) committee members criticizing the Duncan four-option turnaround approach, the last thing I'd do is discourage Tom Harkin (HELP committee chair) from criticizing grant structures.
  • Burning bridges with others in the majority leadership. I wonder if Obey's office let George Miller know about this in advance, or if it was a surprise. If it was a surprise, it positions Obey as a problem child in his last half-year in the House. His state desperately needs all sorts of help from the rest of the country; this isn't going to help his leverage.
  • Undermining the credibility of unions. An AFT staff member quickly explained to reporters today the AFT position that they hadn't known what offsets would be used and that they preferred the original $23B bill without offsets. It really doesn't matter whether Obey had any contact with state or national affiliate officers from NEA or AFT; this is a notable distraction that no union leader needs right before the NEA Representative Assembly begins and the week before the AFT convention.

This is Obey's last year in the House, and I know there's a temptation for him to think there's little accountability for pulling stuff like this. Well, he may not have to pay for it, but others will have to. Own goal, anyone?

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Posted in Education policy on June 30, 2010 2:30 PM | Submit