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ESEA Markup Paused Due to Sen. Paul Procedural Objection

By Alyson Klein — October 19, 2011 3 min read
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U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., employed a rarely used procedural move to put the brakes on the Senate education committee’s consideration today of a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, saying that lawmakers hadn’t had enough time to digest the bill.

Paul, who filed a whopping 74 amendments to the legislation, was overheard asking Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., whether he would sign onto a letter asking for a reading period on the bill. Isakson said he’d consider it.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the committee, and the bill’s sponsor, said he was “somewhat surprised and disappointed by this development. If senators think we will be deterred in our determination to move this bill through committee, I can assure you that is not the case. We can start early, we can stay late.”

He said senators can meet late tonight, or tomorrow morning to continue consideration of the bill.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a leading Republican on the committee, said he didn’t see the need for more reading time. The committee has been working on the bill for four years, he said.

So what exactly is this procedural objection? There’s a standing rule of the Senate that committees cannot meet more than two hours after the Senate has come into session for the day. That rule typically gets waived by the Senate every morning. Last night, Paul objected to waiving that rule. So that means the committee can’t meet during what anyone would consider normal business hours since the Senate is in session today.

There was some back-and-forth on the Senate floor today about Paul’s objection. Paul said that, since he had been in Congress, there hadn’t been hearings on the bill. The committee hadn’t heard from teachers, or school superintendents, he said.

“I have yet to meet a teacher who is in favor of No Child Left Behind,” he said.

But Harkin said that his door has been open, and that Paul hadn’t bothered to tell him about his issues with the bill before putting a halt to the markup. “Sen. Paul had every opportunity to tell [his concerns],” Harkin said. “He never came to me.”

And Harkin said that, if Paul has filed 74 amendments, he must be familiar with the bill.

“How can you file 74 amendments if you haven’t read the bill?,” he asked. “I mean, it seems to me if you file 74 amendments, you must have read the bill. ... You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say I didn’t read the bill, but here are 74 amendments. That doesn’t kind of hold together logically.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., wasn’t too pleased with the pause in proceedings either. He noted that a bipartisan NCLB overhaul bill has been a long time coming. (Reauthorization has been pending since 2007.)

“Finally, after two and a half years, there’s a bipartisan piece of legislation in front of the committee that’s having the benefit of the work of the Senators that are there, and we’re told that meeting for two hours is too long,” Bennet said.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he felt the process had been open, and that he had been able to air his concerns with the bill with key Republicans, as well as Harkin.

“I think I have spent more time on this bill than on any other bill in my time here, and nothing has stopped me from being engaged in it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., also took to the floor to air his concerns about the process. He said he only got the bill a few days before the markup and hadn’t been consulted on the drafting. And he said the bill is too long and complicated. “This bill spends 20 pages defining for every school system what reading is,” he said. “This is insane.”

Photo: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., contemplates the proceedings during the Senate education committee hearings Oct. 19. (Andrew Councill for Education Week)