As Election Day Looms, Close Races Remain for Education Committee Members

By Jesse O’Connell, Policy and Federal Relations Staff

With Americans heading to the polls tomorrow for the 2014 midterm elections, more than just control of the Senate is at stake. Both the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have members facing tough reelection fights, and likely changes in leadership at the top of committee. Here is a summary of some of Tuesday’s races to keep an eye on, along with expected changes facing each committee.

House Committee on Education and the Workforce

In the House, the education committee will look quite different in the 114th Congress. Gone are long time education stalwarts Rep. George Miller (D-CA, retirement), Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI, retirement) and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA, retirement), along with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY, did not run for reelection) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ, did not run for reelection). Democrats additionally will lose Rep. John Tierney (D-MA, lost in primary) and Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ, resigned).

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) are among the members who will be sweating out Tuesday night’s returns, with recent polls showing both men hanging onto slim leads. Bishop, running against conservative state senator Lee Zeldin in a district that leans Republican, has survived tight elections before, including the 2010 wave election that brought the Tea Party to prominence nationally. Zeldin, a veteran of the Iraq War, previously lost to Bishop in 2008 but has kept this year’s race close following a decisive victory in the Republican primary. Loebsack has faced a challenging electoral environment in Iowa, with the high-profile race between Democrat Bruce Braely and Republican Joni Ernst for the vacant Senate seat driving voter turnout and attracting large amounts of spending from outside influence groups.

Few Republicans on the committee are expected to face great difficulty on Tuesday, but it is worth noting that Chairman John Kline (R-MN) was picked by comedian Bill Maher as the target in his “Flip a District” project. Despite this unexpected attention, Kline is widely expected to win reelection, and recent reports have indicated that he is likely to be granted a waiver to continue as committee chair for a fourth term. Should his waiver request be denied, next-in-line Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) would almost certainly ascend to the chair. On the Democratic side, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) would likely serve as the next ranking member, taking the place of the retiring Miller.

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

The previously mentioned vacant Senate seat in Iowa is a result of the retirement of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) a long-time figure in education policy, having served at the top of the education committee for decades. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) are both in closely watched races, the outcomes of which will greatly determine which party controls the Senate. Recent polls show Hagan with a slim lead over businessman and state representative Thom Tillis, in what has been the most expensive senate race in this election cycle. Roberts meanwhile is virtually tied with independent candidate Greg Orman, having faced unexpected erosion in voter support due in part to the perception that he has lost touch with his state.

While the HELP committee is expected to remain full of mostly familiar faces in the next Congress, Harkin’s retirement means that we are guaranteed to see new committee leadership regardless of which party wins the Senate. Should Republicans control the chamber, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will become committee chairman. The former Secretary of Education and Governor made waves in financial aid circles this year with his introduction, along with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), of the FAST Act. This legislation proposed radical simplification of the FAFSA, reducing it to two questions: family size and adjusted gross income. Alexander has also proposed allowing administrative authority to limit student loan borrowing, early notification of Pell grant eligibility and worked to reduce administrative burden.

In the event that Democrats retain their current Senate majority, it’s expected that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) would become chairwoman. Viewed as a champion of students and education programs, Murray has worked recently to restore the ability to benefit provisions to the Pell grant program and expressed concerns about student debt and student borrowing.


Publication Date: 11/3/2014

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