Five years ago, after then House Majority Whip Tom DeLay entered his first vote for President Bush's No Child Left Behind bill, he went on Rush Limbaugh's radio program and apologized.
"I'm ashamed to say it was just blatant politics," he said. "I can't even remember another time I've actually voted against my principles." (He eventually voted against the final bill.)
Today, Bush's signature education law is up for renewal, but Republican loyalty like DeLay's will be harder to come by. Rep. Roy Blunt, the new No. 2 Republican in the House, yesterday joined a group of 57 GOP lawmakers in a revolt. Sens. Mel Martinez and Jon Kyl, the chairs of the Republican National Committee and the Senate Republican Conference, also signed on. Like DeLay, both Blunt and Kyl had supported the law in 2001.
"Bush had a lot of political capital then," says Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association. "Now, I think [these Republicans] are all feeling–I'd use the word liberated."
Worse yet for Bush, Democrats, the new majority party on Capitol Hill, are also skeptical.
Sending a letter pleading for more flexibility to his Democratic colleagues, Sen. Russ Feingold cited his state of Wisconsin.
"There is growing frustration around the country about NCLB," he said. "It is our responsibility to ensure that those voices are heard."
Yesterday's concessions have become today's stubborn demands for reform. Some Republicans, like Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, want to hand control of education back to the states and add in private-school vouchers, opportunities to send kids in low-performing public schools to private school on the federal government's dime. Should Congress continue with NCLB, Hoekstra said yesterday in introducing new legislation, "we will soon have federal government schools."
Democrats, meanwhile, have focused their complaints once again on funding and testing. Sen. Christopher Dodd, with the strong support of the National Education Association, is now working on a bill that would inject significant flexibility into the law, probably at the cost of the strict accountability definitions the Bush administration and the Senate's Democratic leadership support. Nine Democratic senators joined Feingold in his letter last month, outlining concerns about insufficient funding and excessive mandates...
One can only continue to hope.