GOP Charges Absenteeism, not Democrats, Caused Delay of Head Start Vote

Posted July 17, 2003 at 1:21pm

Citing the expected absence of numerous Republican lawmakers, the House GOP leadership has postponed a vote on the controversial bill to revamp and reauthorize the Head Start program.

“First and foremost, it’s an absentee problem,” said Burson Taylor, spokeswoman for Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), despite Democratic claims of a successful stand against the bill.

Taylor acknowledged that so many missing Members — she anticipates a dozen — is “disappointing,” but said it is a lawmaker’s prerogative to miss votes.

President Bush will be in Texas tomorrow and the Majority Whip’s office expects a fair number of Texas Republicans to join him, she said.

“It’s hard to compete with the president.”

Both sides were expecting a close vote on the School Readiness Act, which was slated for floor action Friday.

Republicans say a provision of the bill — an eight-state, five-year pilot program — would give states greater flexibility and enable them to coordinate early-education initiatives with Head Start centers.

Democrats say it is tantamount to a block grant that fiscally strained states could put to other uses and that the overall bill is designed to dismantle the early-education program for poor children.

Democrats declared victory when the schedule change was announced.

“The Republican leadership really had little alternative but to pull this ill-advised legislation from Floor consideration because, had it pressed on, the GOP very likely would have suffered a very embarrassing defeat,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) declared in a release. “Our Whip count showed that House Democrats were united against this bill, and we have every reason to believe that a significant number of Republicans believed this was a deeply flawed bill and were ready to oppose it,” he added.

Taylor admitted the vote would be tight but said Republicans will have enough “yeas” for passage when all Members are present next week.

“It’s pretty sad that they’ve been reduced to jumping for joy only when things don’t get done,” a spokesman for Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said.

That staffer, Jonathan Grella, added that Democrats say they care about children but are unwilling to partake in the agenda. They even oppose items aimed at helping kids, he said.

Democrats argue they must oppose the bill to save Head Start.

“Instead of trying to strengthen Head Start, Republicans are trying to dismantle it,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

“It is yet another in a long line of Republican assaults on children,” she said, adding that Democrats want to expand and strengthen the popular program.

With the School Readiness Act postponed, the House will consider the Energy and water appropriations bill instead Friday.

Taylor said the postponement would also give Members more time to build support for the proposal in their districts.

The National Head Start Association has been vigorously fighting the plan at a grassroots level.