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Did McCain Propose Cutting Dept. of Education?

Via TPM.

In its latest ad about education, titled “What Kind,” the Obama campaign charges that Sen. John McCain once “proposed abolishing the Dept. of Education.” WHAAA?!?

Have a look:

The good people over at Talking Points Memo dug up the transcript from CNN’s Late Edition cited in the ad and found that in late-1994, McCain told Frank Sesno that he would, in fact, like to “do away with” the department. However, I don’t think this constitutes a “proposal” to abolish it. Here’s the quote, in context:

FRANK SESNO: Sen. McCain, would you favor doing away with the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development or the Dept. of Energy?

Sen. JOHN McCAIN: I would certainly favor doing away with the Dept. of Energy and I think that given the origins of the Dept. of Education, I would favor doing away with it as well. HUD had experienced many failures under both Republican and Democrat administrations, and I would certainly want to revamp it from the bottom up, because, clearly, public housing in America is almost as big a disaster as the welfare program…

The current incarnation of the Dept of Education was created in 1979 by the Carter administration — as was, for that matter, the Dept. of Energy. The department was on the Republican hit-list from its inception — many conservatives viewed it as unconstitutional and “an inappropriate intrusion into state, local and family affairs.”

Ronald Reagan ran against Carter in 1980, vowing to eliminate the department, but was unable to thwart congressional Democrats. Around the time McCain made this statement, a movement was underway among GOP members of Congress to kill it once and for all.

But a lot can happen in a decade and a half. These days, abolishing the Dept. of Education is only really talked about in hard-line Libertarian circles. Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress for six years, and if anything, President George W. Bush’s signature domestic accomplishment — the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act — put more control in the department’s hands.

The fact that McCain, answering a question about the Dept. of Energy, volunteered his position on the Dept. of Education indicates he was sincere and unapologetic at the time. But where does McCain stand today?

Repeated calls to his campaign press office seeking a clarification of the Arizona senator’s position were not returned. We’ll try again tomorrow, and keep you posted if we find anything.

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