It’s sort of a big deal that the U.S. Senate is set to debate the Trade Promotion Authority next week—not least for those who have been waiting with bated breath for lawmakers to begin debate on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.
That’s because the decision by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to prioritize the trade measure has effectively punted the long-awaited federal K-12 debate to July. And that’s a problem for a few different reasons.
First, there are only 16 legislative days in July before Congress disperses for its annual five-week summer vacation, not to return until the second week in September. Second, many of those 16 days could easily get eaten up by efforts to clear a set of fiscal 2016 spending bills for federal agencies (including the U.S. Department of Education).
And if that’s the case, and ESEA reauthorization gets pushed into September, well, then it runs into all sorts of additional calendar problems, including the likelihood that there will be yet again the threat of a government shutdown before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. Oh, and then there’s that pesky 2016 presidential election that, like all presidential election campaigns, will likely overshadow everything once it gets going. (And by then, it will be in full swing as the debates begin in early August.)
In short, not to be a Debbie Downer, but the decision to tackle the trade deal pretty significantly diminishes the likelihood that ESEA will get done.
There are, of course, a few reasons to hold out hope.
Chief among them is that Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash, respectively the chairman and ranking member of the education committee and co-authors of the bipartisan measure, still have their eyes on the prize, and they’re incredibly influential members of their respective caucuses. McConnell, too, has said the ESEA overhaul is a major priority.
And, election aside, there is still more than a year left in the current Congress during which the measure could cross the finish line.
But remember, just because it clears the Senate, doesn’t mean it’s sent directly to the president’s desk for his signature. The U.S. House of Representatives has its own ESEA reauthorization pending that at some point would need to be reconciled with the Senate’s bill.
This past week is a prime example of how quickly the tide can turn for pieces of legislation that seem to have everything going for them. Case in point: Last Wednesday, June 10, I tweeted this about ESEA reauthorization efforts in the House.
And I followed that Tweet up this week with similar predictions for the Senate. Queue the sad trombones.