University officials and national education experts said that while they have mixed feelings about last Thursday’s election of new U.S. House of Representatives majority leader John Boehner — the former chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce — they are optimistic about the potential impact of his leadership on higher education legislation.
Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, is an eight-term Congressman who defeated the acting majority leader, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, in a 122-109 vote last week. Former majority leader Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas was indicted on a conspiracy charge and stepped down from the post in September. Yale officials said lobbying reforms called for by Boehner would likely not affect the University’s in-house lobbying efforts, but would be significant for institutions that outsource their federal relations work to outside professionals.
As the new House majority leader, Boehner plans to begin work on reforming the lobbying system, as well as the earmarking process, in which lawmakers secure funds in their legislation for their constituents, Boehner spokesman Don Seymour said in an e-mail.
Yale President Richard Levin said that while he would welcome any necessary lobbying reforms, the University’s lobbying efforts would not be subject to changes under proposed reforms. In recent years, the University has spent more than $350,000 annually lobbying the federal government
“I would doubt that Yale’s practices would cause anybody concern,” Levin said. “We don’t use professional lobbyists. We do it ourselves.”
Seymour said Boehner’s proposals have come in response to the discovery of corruption among interest groups, including former powerhouse lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s alleged bribery of public officials.
“Boehner has made it clear that House Republicans must not only move to reform the laws and rules that govern the lobbying system, but must take action to fundamentally reform the earmarking process that people like Jack Abramoff have sought to exploit for personal gain at the expense of American taxpayers,” Seymour said.
Some of Boehner’s critics have alleged that his connections with lobbyists and acceptance of donations from private student-loan providers such as Sallie Mae are evidence of an incomplete commitment to reform, while others said they disagree with some of Boehner’s positions on budgetary allocations for education.
Higher education institutions have occasionally voiced disagreement with Boehner during his time as chairman of the House Education Committee, said Association of American Universities spokesman Barry Toiv, who said he believes they are prepared to work with Boehner in his new position.
“The higher education community has been able to work with him on a number of issues, but we don’t always see eye to eye,” Toiv said. “It’s really difficult to predict what kind of leader he might be and what impact he will have on higher education.”
Dan Lips, an education analyst for the Heritage Foundation, said Boehner will likely be supportive of education in his new role as majority leader, and that critics of the congressman are wrong in accusing him of favoritism.
“I think that now-Majority Leader Boehner will have a keen focus on education, especially as we consider the reauthorization of [the] No Child Left Behind [Act] in 2007,” Lips said. “I don’t think that the charges about the student loan industry are valid or mean much moving forward.”
Harvard Director of Federal Relations Suzanne Day said she thinks Boehner places importance on higher education issues, but it is too early to predict the implications of his tenure as majority leader.
Due to U.S. House rules, which do not allow House leaders to simultaneously hold a committee chairmanship, Boehner will no longer serve as the education committee’s chairman. Rep. Howard McKeon, a California Republican, is currently the front-runner to replace Mr. Boehner as chair of the committee, Toiv said.