(CNSNews.com) - House Education Committee Chairman Bill Goodling (R-PA) accuses the Clinton-Gore administration of taking credit for a Republican education plan.
Goodling was reacting to President Clinton's announcement Thursday that college students who make their first twelve student-loan payments on time would get an interest-rate rebate, and that college students who decide to teach in needy areas could have part of their student loans forgiven.
In a statement released Thursday, Goodling said President Clinton was simply announcing the implementation of a law that Congress passed - and Clinton signed - two years ago.
Said Goodling, "President Clinton would have us believe that the loan forgiveness for teachers program is a new idea of his, but in reality the idea was first proposed by Representative Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and myself more than two years ago as part of the Higher Education Amendments of 1998. That bill, which was signed into law by the president on October 7, 1998, is a two-year-old law initiated by the Republican Congress.
"It was Congress that gave the Education Department the authority to lower interest rates for direct student loans in the Higher Education Amendments of 1998," Goodling added.
"What the president announced were the final regulations it has taken his Education Department two years to write -- implementing our ideas," Goodling said.
According to a Republican source, "It's just another one of those situations where the president is trying to make news in the waning months of his administration, and even though it's not his plan or his idea, he's going to make everyone think it is."
When they passed the debt relief measures for teachers and students two years ago, Republicans envisioned their plan as being "cost neutral" - in other words, not costing the government millions of dollars. Goodling said he will ask the Congressional Budget Office to make sure that's the case.
A Department of Education official said that over the next decade, the nation's schools must hire 2 million teachers to accommodate increasing enrollments at a time when many veteran teachers are retiring. More than one-fifth of all new teachers left the profession within the last two years, according to the Education Department.
"I think helping people go to college is number one," Clinton said in announcing the initiatives on Thursday. "If I didn't have a chance to go, I wouldn't be here today."
"We have got to keep working until there is not a single, solitary soul in America who stays out of higher education, or drops out of higher education because of the cost," said Clinton, the father of a Stanford University student.
Education has emerged as a prime election year issue for both parties. In fact, Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney has spent the past few days visiting classrooms, emphasizing the importance of education to a new Republican administration.
On Thursday, Cheney visited a summer remedial reading program in suburban Columbus, Ohio.
"It's exactly the kind of thing we'd like to promote," he said.
Cheney said education is the most important issue in the presidential campaign. "It's very important to Gov. Bush. It's one of the hallmarks of his success in Texas," Cheney said.
Bush supports funding for early reading programs, and he favors standardized testing as a way of monitoring students' progress. He also supports private school vouchers if public schools don't measure up.
Democrats agree that education is a high priority issue. Asked what issues would make Al Gore appeal to younger voters, Karenna Gore Schiff said the answer was education and student loans.
In an interview with The Hill, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill, she said her father "is totally committed to making good education accessible to people from all walks of life and wants to expand on Pell grants and work-study loans."