Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: B. Robert Okun

As a creature of Congress, Mr. Chairman, I’d ask unanimous permission to revise and extend my remarks.

I read with great interest Professor Sharp’s paper. I thought it was a very balanced review of the federal role in education policy, focusing particularly on the Bush administration. But in a couple of instances, I thought there was some confusion between America 2000–which was actually the Bush plan—and what he called “Goals 2000,” which ultimately became the Clinton plan that the Congress adopted in 1994. And I think that fact is very telling, because both President Bush and President Clinton wanted to claim that mantle of being the “education president.” However, they went about it very differently, and it’s some of those differences, in my very short time here, that I’d like to point out.

Dr. Sharp’s paper notes the importance of the September 1989 summit at Charlottesville, where all fifty governors were pulled together with the president to discuss the education goals for the country. And quite frankly, I think if you hadn’t had a brand new chief of staff who was a governor from the great state of New Hampshire that summit might not have come off, and I think that’s a very significant historical point that I would hope is noted for the record. I also would note that September of ’89 was also when the president made his dramatic drug speech and laid out his drug policy. I happened to be on the Hill at the time, and was working on the comprehensive drug bills that we used to work on every two years, starting in 1986, when Len Bias unfortunately died of a cocaine overdose. I just find it rather interesting that both those issues—both education and drugs—were addressed by the Bush administration in September of ’89 in major presidential addresses showing real presidential commitment.

Well, in early 1991, which was essentially the midterm of the Bush administration, President Bush tapped former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander to be the new secretary of education, and he came up with a plan that President Bush ultimately unveiled, which was known as America 2000. It was a grassroots effort, locally based, to improve elementary and secondary education community by community. It did require some federal monies and some law changes, and my role was to try and see if we could get that through the Congress. And so one of the key components of this America 2000 legislation was a six-city, $30-million demonstration plan for private and public school vouchers, that low-income families and middle-income families could use to any school they wanted—public, private, or parochial. And the theory was that the education system, with 760 federal education programs, over thirty-nine federal agencies, costing $120 billion per year just wasn’t working. And I think, as Boyden Gray pointed out, some competition might have been very healthy. And this was just a pure demonstration program that was going to be sunset in several years. That’s essentially $5 million per city.

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