WASHINGTON -- A key element of President Obama's post-midterm agenda is already coming under fire from House progressives worried that the president will attempt to rehabilitate himself with a triangulation strategy modeled after President Clinton's gutting of welfare in 1996.
On Thursday morning, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was asked on the radio/TV/Internet news hour Democracy Now! whether it was his sense that Obama hopes to make education his welfare reform.
"That's my sense and also my concern, to be quite honest," said Grijalva, who narrowly won reelection in his Tucson-based district. "We had an opportunity to reauthorize elementary and secondary education. We didn't do that. Now we go back to a session in which the Republicans are going to control the Education and Labor Committee, of which I'm a member."
Grijalva said that large parts of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's education efforts had already been rejected by Democrats. "Arne Duncan's four prescriptions for fixing public schools, which were essentially to privatize, close them... we rejected them as a caucus on that committee," Grijalva said.
Grijalva's opposition, however, could galvanize Obama if he decides that voters were telling him to oppose his base and work with Republicans to go after teachers unions, the element of organized labor that it is now acceptable for liberals to dismiss.
Grijalva, though, said that progressives would organize around a defense of public education. "When 80 to 90 percent of the kids going to school in this country are coming from urban and poor communities, this is a time we invest in public education. So yes, I see that as a place where people are going to look for a common agenda between Republicans and the White House, but I also see it, as it could be for public education, a very, very slippery slope. We have to be very cautious and very protective of public education as one of the agenda items."