The U.S. Senate on Tuesday forged a bipartisan agreement on a bill to prevent human trafficking—a breakthrough that loosens the legislative calendar and makes floor debate for a bipartisan rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act more of a reality.
The agreement comes after nearly a month of sparring between Republicans and Democrats over abortion language that was slipped into the anti-human-trafficking bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had demanded the chamber pass before it moved on to consider Loretta Lynch’s nomination for U.S. Attorney General.
With the spat over the anti-human-trafficking bill resolved, members are set to approve it and Lynch’s nomination as early as this week. That would free up the Senate calendar for the ESEA overhaul, among other things.
The chain reaction is a perfect example of how pieces of legislation that have nothing to do with one another often determine the fate of a particular bill awaiting floor debate.
McConnell said Tuesday that he hopes to move the anti-human-trafficking bill and potentially Lynch’s nomination this week. He’ll then choose from a handful of bills that have strong bipartisan backing for floor action before the current work period ends May 22, including the education bill, which Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., spent more than two months brokering.
McConnell did not say in what order he plans to call bills to the floor, but he reiterated that they are all candidates for floor debate that will occur before the Memorial Day recess.
“We’re going to make progress on all these bills,” he told reporters.
During the same press conference, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., applauded his colleagues for a string of bipartisan agreements that include the ESEA bill, the recently-passed measure that ensures payments for doctors who see lots of Medicare patients, a cyber-security bill, and the agreement on a congressional response to the Iran nuclear framework.
The federal K-12 compromise, Wicker specifically said, “has a real opportunity to move our [school] system further.”
Democratic leadership didn’t address the ESEA bill during its press conference Tuesday, but Murray said in an interview that she’s hopeful it will get a vote this work period.
“I’m happy to work with our leadership and Sen. Alexander and his leadership to get the bill on the floor,” said Murray. “It’s a law that everybody agrees needs to get fixed, and I’m hopeful we can do it as soon as the Republican leadership allows to get us to the floor.”
But just as spontaneously as a path forward can appear for a bill, it can also be taken away. For example, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the list of amendments for the anti-human-trafficking bill includes several contentious proposals on immigration that could muck up the process.
Warned Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.: “You never know with this Republican caucus.”
If the ESEA measure gets called to the Senate floor, senators are expected to offer many of the contentious amendments that they filed during the Senate education committee markup, but either never offered or offered and then withdrew.
Chief among those will be proposals from Republicans to allow Title I dollars for low-income students to follow students to the public or private schools of their choice, and proposals from Democrats to strengthen the accountability system by requiring states to identify their poorest-performing schools.