By Mark Vieth, Senior Vice President
Amid the backdrop of a potential government shutdown, budget gridlock, intractable debates over Planned Parenthood and Syrian refugees, and repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Congress is actually getting some things done. Very quietly, in fact, House and Senate Republicans and Democrats have struck deals on two major pieces of legislation within a two-week period.
On November 19, House and Senate negotiators announced agreement on a major overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – formerly known as “No Child Left Behind.” The new version, called the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” was approved by the conference committee by a lopsided vote of 38-1. While the bill will certainly have its detractors in the K-12 education community (some of whom believe it returns too much control back to states and localities), the bill is expected to be approved later this week by the House and shortly thereafter by the Senate, and then signed into law by the president.
Another major bipartisan achievement was just announced December 1, when House and Senate transportation committee leaders unveiled a bipartisan deal on a five-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs.
The “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act)” authorizes spending over five years of approximately $205 billion for highway programs and $48 billion for transit programs. The conference agreement also includes the House-approved higher funding levels for the University Transportation Centers program. The House and Senate will try to clear the FAST Act before December 4, when existing programs are set to expire.
These accomplishments were achieved without much fanfare and national press, and demonstrate that Congress can still legislate in a bipartisan manner.
Perhaps this new sense of bipartisanship will inspire a new sense of cooperation and compromise when it comes to negotiating the outstanding fiscal year 2016 budget appropriations issues…
Perhaps Congress can return to regular order and approve appropriations bills without interjecting partisan riders…
And perhaps Democrats and Republicans, Senators and Representatives, Liberals and Tea Party Members will set aside their differences to keep our government functioning and our highest priorities funded….
Or as Steve Martin said when he played “Theodoric of York: Medieval Barber” on Saturday Night Live….”Naaaah…”