Bowing to the concerns of their own caucus — along with expected absenteeism —House Republican leaders decided to pull a reauthorization of Head Start (HR 2210) from Friday's floor schedule.
"A lot of the local Head Start [advocates] are so ginned up," a leadership aide said. "Their grass roots are just gunning" for the bill, which would allow an experiment with block-grant funding for the popular program. The aide said GOP lawmakers were worried that they would come across as "voting against 5-year-olds learning."
Democrats hailed the decision as a victory Wednesday night.
"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," said Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Democratic whip. He added that Democrats were united against the bill.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., confirmed that activists' efforts concerned some members. "I've always thought this bill was not understood by anyone," he said. "It takes some salesmanship."
In place of the Head Start bill, the leadership has scheduled a vote on the $27.1 fiscal 2004 draft energy and water spending bill.
Reauthorization for the Head Start program — which typically draws bipartisan support — has faced fierce Democratic opposition because this year's bill includes a modified Bush administration proposal to give block grants to states to run the federal program.
The bill would allow eight states to administer Head Start and coordinate services with existing preschool programs.
Republicans say the proposed change would help prevent overlaps in services and would strengthen the academic standards for the early childhood education program.
Democrats counter that the plan would allow states to dilute the services Head Start provides and siphon money away from their programs. In addition to academic preschool curricula, Head Start offers nutrition, health and social services to its 900,000 enrolled children.
Democrats and many activists also objected to a provision in the bill that would allow religious organizations receiving federal funds for Head Start centers to make hiring decisions based on religious preferences.
Republicans' difficulty with the measure is somewhat reminiscent of their troubles with a measure (HR 1119) that would have granted employers the ability to compensate employees who work overtime with time off rather than extra pay. That legislation was pulled off the schedule just after Memorial Day. On that one, lawmakers attributed GOP defections on the "comp time" bill to an all-out blitz by organized labor.
Source: CQ Today