New York’s House Democrats Do Teachers’ Union Bidding, Face Obama Veto


Every one of New York’s 26 Democrats in the House voted for a budget amendment last week that President Obama had already threatened to veto.

A New York Times editorial this morning blasted the amendment, which passed by a 239 to 182 vote, without even fingering the special interests that produced such an overwhelming and wrongheaded repudiation of a Democratic president by a Democratic Congress.

No one other than teachers’ union scold Randi Weingarten could get New York representatives as diverse as Staten Island’s Michael McMahon and Brooklyn’s Anthony Weiner to do it. The state’s two Republican congressmen, Peter King and Chris Lee, opposed the amendment. Nineteen Democrats, including Michigan Congressman John Conyers and other minority members, either voted against the bill or sat it out.

The bill provides $10 billion in school aid to protect up to 140,000 teacher jobs. But its sponsor, retiring House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey, insisted on cutting $800 million from Race to the Top and other Obama reforms hated by Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers to offset the cost of the jobs bill. Obey derided the Obama objections as “a joke.” Race to the Top offers millions in additional aid to states that adopt teacher evaluation reforms and back charter schools.

Having helped insert this poison pill, Weingarten then announced how “deeply disappointing” it was “that a Democratic administration would threaten to veto a jobs bill because paying for it would require a negligible cut from its new pet project.” She praised the House members who “took a courageous stand for students by ignoring a threatened presidential veto.”

The AFT has so far given $1.5 million to federal candidates in the 2010 cycle, including an average of $5,097 to 227 House Democrats. Having only donated to 13 Democrats in the Senate, the union apparently lacks the clout to get its pet bill through that body, where a dozen Democrats have already signed a letter opposing the amendment. The bill cuts Race to the Top to $2.9 billion, which the Times called “damaging and unnecessary” and said would “dampen a thriving school reform effort.”

The Times inadvertently got Weingarten’s motive correct when it said that the House cut “would send the message that the federal government was never really serious about this effort in the first place,” precisely the message that the AFT and its competitor, the National Education Association, want to convey. Ironically, by posing as occasionally willing to accept some reforms in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, Weingarten just earned an op ed kiss in the Daily News from one of the champions of these reforms, even as she was rallying behind this congressional slap at Obama’s signature program.

Even Democratic Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, who risked losing a New York share of the Race to the Top funding in January rather than adopt some of the reforms demanded by the program, came around in May when Andrew Cuomo joined the fight to increase the number of charter schools. The lifting of the state’s charter cap–vigorously opposed by teacher unions here–is a key to qualifying for the discretionary aid. The House vote continues a pattern of New York Democrats, including some in the State Senate Democratic conference led by AG candidate Eric Schneiderman, doing Weingarten bidding at the expense of reform.

Neither of the state’s two U.S. senators–Chuck Schumer or Kirsten Gillibrand–joined the 12 Democrats who signed the senate letter objecting to Race to the Top cuts.

Additional research by: Adam Schwartzman, Gavin Aronsen, Jenny Tai, Michael Cohen, and Nicole Maffeo