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Senate Majority Leader Moves to Set End to ESEA-Rewrite Debate

By Lauren Camera — July 13, 2015 3 min read
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In an unexpected move, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., moved to close debate on the chamber’s bipartisan bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, invoking cloture on the underlying bill Monday evening, which sets up a possible vote on final passage for as early as Wednesday.

Let’s get technical for a second: In invoking cloture on the bill, McConnell essentially set a 30-hour clock during which all debate needs to be finalized. Once that time expires, senators will take an up-or-down vote on whether to adopt the bill as it’s been amended thus far. After that, senators will need to bring the debate to an official halt, which requires the support of at least 60 members. And finally, if that 60-vote threshold is cleared, the senators will have an opportunity to take an up-or-down vote on the bill itself.

So what does all this really mean? Well for starters, it could pose some problems for senators who are still finessing language in their amendments.

McConnell set a Tuesday 2:30 p.m. deadline for all additional amendments to be filed, which especially squeezes Democrats who are still working on proposals that would beef up accountability.

The announcement seemed to come as somewhat of a surprise even to the underlying bill’s co-author Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., though with congressional priorities piling up it wasn’t entirely astonishing.

“I understand,” Alexander said reluctantly. “We’ve had a chance to have a good discussion, a good debate. We’re getting toward the end of our consideration. We’ve got a couple of issues we need to resolve, but there are only a couple, and for a bill of this size, that’s pretty good.”

He said he hoped that McConnell would rethink the move to close debate so that senators could continue to work through a couple of more issues on the roughly 800-page Every Child Achieves Act.

“Look, so far, so good,” Alexander continued. “It would be my hope that we could continue right on through the process and that the majority leader might even get to the point later in the week where he’d be able to vitiate the cloture and we could finish without a cloture vote.”

Alexander noted that so far, senators have considered 25 amendments on the floor, adopting eight by roll call and 11 by voice vote.

“We have dozens more that have been agreed to by Sen. Murray and me and that we would recommend to the Senate that we complete,” he said, referring to the bill’s co-author, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had some choice words for McConnell and took to the floor to slam his decision to close debate on the bill.

“We’ve had virtually no serious amendments, and now all of a sudden the Republican Leader ... [is] filing cloture really early,” Reid said. “I’m very disappointed by this. I’m surprised, quite frankly.”

Reid noted that Democrats, including Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, are still working on amendments that would beef up accountability, especially for low-performing schools. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Reid said, was looking forward to an amendment that would enact the Student Nondiscrimination Act to provide protections under the civil rights law for LGBT students. And Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is preparing an amendment that would expand early-childhood education.

“These are important amendments dealing with education,” Reid said. “We’ve been working in good faith trying to move things along, specifically this bill. There’s still a number of major amendments that need to be addressed.”

Notably, McConnell’s push to finish the bill wouldn’t prevent members from offering and the Senate from adopting or rejecting additional amendments. As long as proposals are filed by 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, they would qualify for a vote should Alexander and Murray decide to bring them to the floor.

Stay tuned Tuesday for a large number of votes, many of which will likely be offered in groups and adopted by voice vote or with large backing.