Congress Winds Down with Packed Agenda

U.S. Capitol

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

The Senate returns to town today after Thanksgiving recess. Most pressing is the December 11 deadline to avoid a government shutdown. Meanwhile pressure to address an out-of-control pandemic with a fiscal relief bill does not appear to be in sight. And President Trump continues to challenge the outcome of the Presidential election. 

The 116th Congress Moves Toward a Shaky Finish

Progress with finalizing the FY 2021 spending bill is underway, but the outcome is far from certain. The four corners (Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate) have been meeting and appear to be in agreement on top line spending numbers. The four corners also agree that they want a bill. President Trump remains a wild card. 

One of four outcomes is possible:  1) Congress completes all the funding bills by December 11 and the President signs them into law;  2) Congressional negotiators are making  good progress by December 11 and extend the current level of funding for a week or so while they continue to negotiate; 3) Congress passes a temporary funding measure through March or so, essentially punting decision-making into the next Congress; 4) Congress passes a bill before the end of the year and the President refuses to sign it causing a government shutdown. My money is on number 2. Congress is notorious for stretching out finalization of bills right up until the Christmas break.  It’s hard to imagine a government shutdown—even in the midst of the craziness these days—that seems a bridge too far.

A COVID relief bill does not appear to be on the horizon, though there are intermittent reports, and then denials, that negotiations are underway. It is possible that some portions of COVID relief could end up on the FY 2021 spending bill, if agreement can be reached on that.

The 545 Members of Congress have not been immune to COVID.  To date 84 Members have been quarantined, tested positive for COVID-19, or come in contact with someone with COVID.  In the month of November, so far seven Members have tested positive, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the 87 year- old chair of the Finance Committee. With no agreed upon rules about social distancing and mask wearing in the House or Senate, the Capitol appears to be a place of transmission risk.  This week, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) took to the Senate floor challenging Sen. Dan. Sullivan’s (R- AK) refusal to wear a mask.  Needless to say, the backdrop of the personal behavior of Members of Congress serves as yet another barrier to successful negotiations. 

The Biden-Harris Transition Team Forges Ahead

Despite full-fledged legal, political, and social media challenges of the election outcome from the Trump Administration, The Biden transition team is forging ahead. They are talking with representatives of national associations, gathering names of people for potential political appointments, and pouring through multiple documents submitted by organizations. The National Education Association may win the prize for the longest set of suggestions. They put forward a 54-page Policy Playbook for Biden-Harris Administration this week covering 27 different subject areas and highlighting COVID relief funding, expanding and fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and fighting for racial, social, and education justice. 

While President-elect Biden has named a number of his appointees, there is no official word on a Secretary of Education. ( In an earlier blog, I offered a compilation of speculation about potential nominees for Secretary of Education.) Last week three Republican senators indicated that Biden would receive the benefit of the doubt as they cast their votes for cabinet nominees, citing the belief that a president deserves to name his Cabinet. With the indication that he would pick up at least three Republican votes on nominees, the Biden team can anticipate reasonable confirmation processes. However, if Republicans retain control of the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell will determine whether and when Cabinet nominees are called up on the agenda for floor votes. But first we have to get President Biden sworn in!

New Resources for Educators

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information and remember to follow me on twitter @janewestdc.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant