Washington Wrapup

First it was the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Now, Rep. David Obey is leaving. If college leaders feel like they’re losing their Congressional champions one by one, that’s understandable.

To a person, higher education lobbyists reacted with shock and dismay at Wednesday’s announcement that Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, would not run for re-election in November. Obey, the fourth longest-serving member of the House and chairman of its Appropriations Committee, was facing a tough election fight, but most analysts expected him to survive. At a news conference Wednesday, Obey described himself as "bone tired" from more than 40 years of fighting.

He recounted that he had once told an interviewer that "the job of a good politician was to be used up fighting on behalf of causes you believed in, and when you are used up, to step aside and let someone else carry on the battle. Well, today I feel used up."

In higher education, those battles have first and foremost been about the Pell Grant and other financial aid for needy students. Obey said Wednesday that he joined Congress with three key goals — to make the economic system fairer for low- and middle-income families, provide affordable health care for all, and "expand federal support for education in order to expand opportunity for every American"

"That has been a hard slog," he said, "but, especially in the last three years, we have been able to move a large amount of federal resources to do just that. Just this last year, we were able to greatly enhance federal support for student aid. It is not enough, but it makes a difference."

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