Typically these days on Capitol Hill, senators set broad parameters on big bills like the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and it’s up to the staff (who are sometimes true policy experts, but other times fairly novice 20-somethings) to fill in the details.
But that hasn’t been the case so far this year in the Senate. The “Big Four” lawmakers in the Senate overseeing reauthorization in that chamber have been meeting twice a week, for a couple of hours at a time, to have real, substantive discussions about reauthorization.
As a reminder, the “Big Four” are: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the top Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., himself a former Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
For those outside the Beltway, this may sound like the way things should always get done, but in Congress, it isn’t. It’s unusual for members to be this personally engaged in legislation.
There are plenty of political hurdles to ESEA reauthorization and it’s still unclear if lawmakers will be able to finish a bill by the Obama administration’s preferred timetable. But the bipartisan meetings are a sign that these four lawmakers are truly personally committed to ESEA.