Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, Key G.O.P. Moderate, To Retire In 1996
Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, a Republican from Kansas, recently announced that she will not be seeking re-election next year. As the chairwoman of the Senate panel responsible for education issues, she has been a prominent voice advocating for schools and children. Ms. Kassebaum made history this year by becoming the first woman to chair a major Senate committee, taking leadership of the Labor and Human Resources Committee. Her political background includes three years as a school board member and experience as a congressional aide. Additionally, she is the daughter of Alf Landon, the former Kansas governor and GOP presidential nominee in 1936.
At a news conference in Topeka, Kansas, Ms. Kassebaum explained her decision not to seek re-election: "My reason for this decision is very simple and purely personal. I believe the time has come for me to leave the Senate and pursue other challenges, including the challenge of being a grandmother."
By stepping down, Ms. Kassebaum creates an opportunity for Senator James M. Jeffords, a Republican from Vermont, to assume the role of committee chairman if the Republicans retain control of the Senate after the 1996 elections. Senator Jeffords, previously serving in the House for 14 years before moving to the Senate in 1988, is known for his liberal views and long-standing interest in education. "Generally, there will be a welcoming of his chairmanship, at least on our side," commented Senator Paul Simon, a Democrat from Illinois and member of the education committee.
Observers credit Ms. Kassebaum for her constructive role in the Senate, particularly in the realm of education. Her moderate views and positive relationships with colleagues from across the political spectrum allowed her to facilitate compromises between parties and legislative bodies when Democrats had control. Former Representative William D. Ford, who chaired the House Education and Labor Committee from 1991 to 1994, praised Ms. Kassebaum’s ability to garner support for education: "She was very frequently the swing vote and took other people with her in support of education. We were very thankful for her."
Bill Frenzel, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and former House Republican, predicts that Ms. Kassebaum’s departure will lead to increased partisanship in a Senate that has grown increasingly contentious. He believes that her unique ability to unite individuals with differing viewpoints will be sorely missed and that it will be challenging for Senator Jeffords or any other successor to fill her shoes.
While she is not known for being a harsh critic of federal education programs, Ms. Kassebaum has focused her tenure as chairwoman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee on devolving control over certain programs to the states. One of her successful initiatives is the consolidation of 90 job-training programs into a single block grant, which passed the Senate with overwhelming support. Additionally, she has proposed a "youth-development block grant" that would consolidate various youth-oriented programs related to health, education, and crime prevention. Another proposal from Ms. Kassebaum aims to create a single child-care block grant, which was included in the budget-reconciliation measure alongside other proposals to overhaul welfare and Medicaid. Her disapproval of the Clinton administration’s direct-lending program for college students played a significant role in the decision to limit the program’s size in the reconciliation bill. Furthermore, her sponsorship of legislation to eliminate the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, responsible for certifying state academic standards and assessments under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, contributed to the growing opposition against the council.