Congress on a Mad Dash Before August Recess

U.S. currency under graduation cap

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.  

It’s hard to believe we are already approaching the end of July. Congress is feeling the pressure, like the night before your paper is due and you haven’t started it yet. 

The Crunch is on in Congress as the August Recess Closes In

With just under two weeks until Congress is scheduled to go on the 4-week summer recess, Members are in a race against the clock – balancing appropriations, infrastructure, and reconciliation, all as the debt ceiling expiration looms on the horizon. When Congress returns after Labor Day, only a few weeks remain to address the FY2022 appropriations bills before the September 30 deadline. All the while, Senate Democrats are navigating a tricky balancing act—attempting to move forward both a $600 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that is only expected to garner partisan support—and all at the same time. As we’ve said before, with multiple trains moving down the track, Members of Congress are certainly hoping to avoid a collision.

The buzz around Capitol Hill suggests that the Senate Appropriations Committee is aiming to begin marking up their FY2022 funding bills the first week in August—cutting into at least one week of the coveted August recess. Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee has now reported all of its 12 government funding bills and leaders plan to bring seven of the bills – including the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill—to the House floor in a single package next week. Next week is also the last week the House is scheduled to be in session until September 20th. However, all of that could change if the Senate passes a FY2022 budget resolution with reconciliation instructions intended for a big “human” infrastructure bill. Such a bill would include proposed funding that was included in the American Families Plan and reflected in the President’s FY2022 budget request as mandatory funding for a number of existing and new education programs—including addressing the educator pipeline. 

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and 14 other Senators sent a letter to Senate leaders urging the inclusion of the President’s proposed $9 billion long-term investment in the reconciliation package  “to help close equity gaps in student access to a well-prepared, diverse, supported, and stable educator workforce.” This includes a $2.5 billion investment in the Teacher Quality Partnership program in the Higher Education Act and a $900 million investment in personnel preparation under IDEA Part D. “Decades of data have made clear that students of color and students from families experiencing low incomes lack equitable access to a well-prepared, diverse, supported, and stable educator workforce. We urge you to seize this moment and invest in the most important in-school factor to student learning – educators – by including a $9 billion investment in a well-prepared, diverse, supported, and stable educator workforce in an infrastructure package,” the Senators concluded.

Kaine’s push comes as Republicans blocked a bi-partisan infrastructure agreement on Wednesday. The vote does not mean the $600 billion “traditional” infrastructure package is off the table, but it could mean Senate Democrats turn their focus towards the partisan  $3.5 trillion budget resolution with reconciliation instructions. However, moderate Republicans have also suggested they would be willing to vote again on the bi-partisan infrastructure package as early as Monday if a deal can be reached over the weekend. Stay tuned as details will continue to rapidly unfold over the coming days.

Senate HELP Committee Considers Some Biden Education Nominations

On Wednesday, the Senate HELP committee advanced two Education Department nominations: Elizabeth Brown to be General Counsel and Roberto Rodríguez to be Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. “These nominees all made clear at their hearings that they are well-qualified for their roles and will help build back a stronger, fairer country for workers, students, and families across the country,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA.) said in a statement. The next step will be a vote by the full Senate.

Notably missing from Wednesday’s vote was the nomination of Catherine Lhamon as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department. After a contentious hearing in the Committee, Lhamon’s nomination may be in trouble. Former Sec. Betsy DeVos has been critical of Lhamon on twitter and said on Fox News that she “brought in all kinds of left-wing ideology and practices” when she headed OCR under President Obama. At the heart of  the controversy is President Biden’s promise to repeal the DeVos era Title IX regulations which relate to due process rights for students accused of sexual misconduct. DeVos believes the rules she set forth ensure survivors are heard and those who are accused are not presumed guilty. Advocates argue that the rules weaken protections for survivors and will serve as a deterrent to reporting incidents. Sen Richard Burr (R-N.C.), ranking Republican on the HELP Committee, has indicated that he will oppose Lhamon’s nomination. The HELP Committee issued a statement saying the vote was postponed because of scheduling conflicts. Lhamon could still be confirmed if all Republican Senators oppose her nomination, and all Democrats support her. VP Kamila Harris would potentially cast a tie breaking vote to secure her confirmation. Interestingly, it was also a VP tie breaking vote that secured the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. 

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. Follow us on Twitter @janewestdc and @brennan_kait.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant