Liberal Democrat Backs Much of Bush Education Plan

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - Sen. Edward Kennedy vehemently rejects President Bush's nomination of John Ashcroft for attorney general, but he is giving a much more upbeat assessment of the education package Bush plans to send to Congress Tuesday.

"It seems to me we could make important progress," said the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts.

Kennedy was among a group of lawmakers who met with Bush at the White House Tuesday morning for a briefing on the administration's education plan.

President Bush is scheduled to announce details of his education package in a Rose Garden ceremony early Tuesday afternoon. The package includes a school voucher plan, which many Democrats, including Kennedy, oppose.

"His position [on vouchers] is unchanged from the time of the campaign," Kennedy said of Bush. "We understand that. We have some differences in that area."

But, said Kennedy, "The areas...where we are in agreement, I thought, were very substantial...and can make a very important difference."

Kennedy said he is interested in "getting some action" on those areas of agreement, and as for differences of opinion - he said lawmakers will have an opportunity to deal with those issues in committee and in floor debate.

"I think what is important today is that we have a president that wants to make this a strong priority," Kennedy said. He also noted there are leaders in the House and Senate "who want to work with him to get something meaningful done."

Kennedy said he agrees with the "broad outlines" of the Bush plan, which calls for quality teaching, accountability, literacy, expansion of Pell grants for higher education, and early intervention for disadvantaged children.

Kennedy said Bush offered him and other Democrats "the basis of an agreement" - assurances and guarantees that limited federal resources would go to the neediest children.

Although they had a "frank and open" discussion about vouchers, Kennedy left the meeting with Bush focusing on the positive: "I can't emphasize enough the other areas where the president was reaching out... and where there's very broad agreement and meaningful agreement and the basis for a very important education legislative initiative."