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Eric Cantor to Step Down as Majority Leader; Shakeup May Threaten Ed. Bills

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., will step down from his No. 2 post in the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of next month, he announced Wednesday, a shakeup that leaves in jeopardy a short list of bipartisan, education-focused bills awaiting a vote in the House.

The announcement comes after a stunning upset, in which the seven-term House veteran lost in the Republican primary for the 7th District of Virginia on Tuesday to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat.

Cantor, the House Majority Leader, is an avid proponent of charter schools, vouchers, and school choice, and over the past year made education issues an increasingly important part of his platform. In fact, support for charter schools was just one of two policy issues he cited in his concession speech Tuesday night.

As Majority Leader, he's helped spur the advancement of several bipartisan, education-related bills in the House, including a charter school bill, an education research bill, and an update to the federal workforce training law. He also put some effort into easing the logjam on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Though at first blush it may seem that losing a Majority Leader with a penchant for education would alone threaten the future of these bills, some education policy experts suspect that the leadership reshuffle will be a bigger problem.

"I think this is lousy news for folks hoping to push through these education bills," said Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. "But less because of Cantor's take on education than because it throws a wrench in dealmaking on Capitol Hill. The issue is that Cantor is the guy who worked back and forth to hold together House Republicans to move legislation. Even if his heart is in it for the next few months, he doesn't have the same muscle he had three days ago."

Cantor will officially resign from his leadership post July 31, but for what it's worth, he said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon that he expects to move legislation.

"We have a very busy floor period," Cantor said. "[I'll be focused on] making sure we can run the floor and be expeditious in the legislative process, so we look forward to having a very productive June and July."

House Republicans will hold elections for the Majority Leader position next week, but none of the assumed front-runners have staked an interest in education issues the way Cantor has, nor have they displayed the same urgency to pass legislation. Those considered as likely replacements include Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, who began jockeying for Cantor's spot just hours after the concession speech, as well as Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling, both of Texas.

There's another downside to Cantor's loss that would impact every proposal waiting for a vote, Hess said.

"It's a cautionary tale to Republicans who might worry about being seen as being too willing to compromise or too willing to work the levers in Congress," said Hess. "The question is, who among House Republicans is going to be able and willing to work back and forth with Senate Democrats or to round up Democratic votes for charters or to move [the education research bill]? It's hard to think of anybody who has the interest and incentive to play that role right now."

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