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By taking up such a narrow issue as Speaker, education advocates maintain that Boehner is using his powerful position to promote something that might otherwise be overlooked. He has waited nearly three months since being sworn in as Speaker to push his pet cause and is using D.C.’s program as a model for broader education reform, observers note.
“He understands that this is a personal priority for him, but it’s not the only priority for the Conference,” said Quinn Gillespie & Associates’ John Feehery, a former Hastert aide. “He’s showing he has the proper perspective by letting Members push other things first, and he’s giving attention to an issue that rarely gets on the front pages.”
Still, Boehner has taken on far broader legislative initiatives in the past. During his time as chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, Boehner was a lead sponsor of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Pension Protection Act of 2006.
The National Education Association has long opposed school vouchers, and dissenting Democrats charge that Boehner should not be pushing his pet cause at a time when the U.S. military is engaged in Libya and Congress has still not figured out how to fund the government past April 8, when the current continuing resolution expires.
Pelosi’s office circulated a release last week blasting Boehner for pushing voucher legislation that “will increase the deficit by $300 million, includes no offsets and is an ideological effort to recreate a program that was ended years ago because it did not work.”
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) took it a step further. In an interview, she said Boehner has chosen to make his legislative focus an issue that “serves his own personal and ideological concerns.”
“He’s unable to implement it or anything like it nationwide because of wholesale opposition to public funding of private schools, so you can always gang up and bully on the District if there’s something you want and can’t get anywhere else,” she said.