- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

If Senate Republicans insert the $13 million District school voucher initiative in an omnibus spending package it will give Democrats few options to oppose the measure.

“We haven’t settled on strategy because we haven’t seen the bill, but the betting is it will be put in the omnibus,” said an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

But Senate Republicans have made no final determination on vouchers, which has been a contentious issue since it was introduced this past summer.

“I don’t know that decision’s been made,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who called it “one of the key issues” leaders must make decisions on in the omnibus spending bill.

“It has majority support on the floor,” he said. “I assume we’ll try to keep it in, but I don’t know.”

Congress sometimes bundles authorization bills into an omnibus package to fast-track approval.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said he wants to see vouchers go into an omnibus bill because it was the only way to move the measure forward.

“We offered [Democrats] a debate on this issue and a vote, but they were going to filibuster,” he said.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, her party’s ranking member on the D.C. subcommittee, did not rule out a Democratic filibuster of the omnibus to stop the use of public money to send about 2,000 District children in failing schools to private schools.

But she said it would most likely not occur solely because of vouchers.

“I would venture to say probably not, but if [vouchers] and another handful of other questionable bills are included [in the omnibus] it’s possible,” she said.

Mr. Brownback said a filibuster by Senate Democrats of an all-encompassing funding package over vouchers would be like “starting a fight with the low ground.”

“We now have a majority of D.C. residents and the mayor saying the current system isn’t working, and I think that would be a dangerous strategy for them,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Tuesday that his party will not enter into any filibusters “unless we know we can win.”

“And we are, as I said, not going to make any decisions with regard to filibusters on any issues until we’ve had more of an opportunity to review the final product.”

The battle for District school vouchers began in September after the bill was nearly killed in the House after it passed by only one vote.

The $13 million school-choice program, proposed by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, and Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, is a small part of the District’s $7.4 billion federal- and local-spending package for next year.

Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, and chairman of the District appropriations subcommittee said the city’s budget “will be rolled into an omnibus and it will roll with no problems.”

“But where vouchers ends up, we’ll just have to wait and see,” Mr. DeWine added.

House Republicans want the bill passed in whatever form it takes coming back from the Senate. A spokesman for Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the District appropriations subcommittee, said “he will continue to fight to keep school choice in conference.”

“We cannot go another year without giving D.C.’s students in failing schools a choice.” the spokesman said.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, continues to oppose the measure and is trying to reverse the slim margin of victory the Republicans have held thus far, said a spokeswoman for her office.


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