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If Senate Starts Over on Health Care, K-12 Could Dip Lower on Priority List

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 28, 2017 2 min read
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If the Senate’s attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that crashed and burned Friday morning comes back to life, it could push congressional action on education further down the priority list.

Why? Several senators, Democrats in the main, complained that the health-care legislation was not considered by the “regular” process. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., decides to start over and try to move a bill through the relevant committees, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., suddenly becomes a very important figure in the process. That’s because, as many readers know, he chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Alexander was a part of the original group of senators who worked on their chamber’s efforts to repeal Obamacare, but eventually the process became driven primarily, if not exclusively, by GOP Senate leadership. If senators on relevant committees take charge of a renewed health-care overhaul push, Alexander will likely have his hands full.

And that means a lot less time for Alexander to focus on pressing education policy issues in Congress. Those include a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, his top education priority, an updated Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (a version of which passed the House earlier this year), and others.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, offered an unsuccessful amendment Friday morning to run McConnell’s proposed bill through Alexander’s committee before any full Senate vote. Alexander and Murray, as we’ve written many times, teamed up successfully in 2015 to help pass the Every Student Succeeds Act.

During a Senate floor speech on Thursday, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., pointed out that Alexander was “perfectly capable” of handling a bipartisan health care overhaul in his committee, of which Bennet is a member. Watch the video below—Bennet’s comments about Alexander begin at about the 7:30 mark:

Of course, Congress and the Senate in particular have not gotten a lot done on education so far in 2017. Alexander’s committee hasn’t publicly considered and voted on a single bill dealing directly with K-12, although that’s not an overwhelming surprise given the focus on ESSA oversight and activity in the states.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that the Senate will revive efforts to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. And even if the plan comes back to life, there’s no guarantee that it would run through the “regular” committee process. But given intense GOP interest in putting their stamp on health care, it’s an issue that bears watching.

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