Considering how often PRESIDENT BUSH declared education reform to be his top priority, he doesn't seem to be breaking a sweat to save his proposal from the quiet dismemberment it is getting from Congress. His plan to give private-school vouchers to children in failing public schools arrived on Capitol Hill pretty much dead, thanks to Democratic opposition. Since then, conservative Republicans have stripped the bill of other remnants of "accountability." It is far from clear whether the bill that passed the Senate education committee would even require states to use a uniform test to measure how their students are performing. Last week a bipartisan group of Senators began daily sessions to put some of the teeth back into the measure. Bush refused to meet with them, and congressional sources say other White House officials had to be prodded into participating. It leaves people wondering what Bush's real goal is--fixing the problem or merely passing any kind of bill that claims to. But it may still leave parents in the dark about whether their children are learning. Senate Republicans are also privately fuming that the President was MIA last week on his tax cut. They pleaded with the White House to have Bush invite G.O.P. moderate JIM JEFFORDS to the Oval Office for personal stroking on the tax bill. Bush didn't, and Jeffords bolted. Complained a G.O.P. Senator: "We needed all hands on the deck, including the admiral."
--By Karen Tumulty and Douglas Waller/Washington and Jodie Morse/New York