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Congress Keeps Government Open, Confirms Department of Education Appointees

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 been a tense week in Washington as a vote to save the nation from default hovered on the horizon. With a temporary solution in place, the rest of the year promises to be a continued set of cliff hangers.  

First Log Jam Broken in Congress—More to Come

Last week, President Biden signed into a law a Continuing Resolution to fund the government through December 3, thus avoiding a government shutdown. The stopgap measure was the first of four major pieces of legislation on Congress’s agenda. At the start of this week the other three—bi-partisan infrastructure, reconciliation, and legislation to raise the debt ceiling—remained in limbo. But, on Thursday evening 11 Senate Republicans joined with all Democrats to pass a short term solution  to the debt ceiling.

Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) ultimately provided the 10th and 11th votes to pass the measure. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) quickly called the vote before taking to the floor to castigate Republicans in a speech.  “I thank my Democratic colleagues for showing unity in solving this Republican-manufactured crisis,” Schumer said. “Despite immense opposition from Leader McConnell and members of his conference, our caucus held together and we have pulled our country back from the cliff’s edge that Republicans tried to push us over.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD), who advanced the debt ceiling hike, told Schumer that his speech was “inappropriate and tone deaf.” “He made the objective he described more difficult to achieve by virtue of what he said,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who voted to filibuster the bill and also confronted Schumer. “There’s a time to be graceful and there’s a time to be combative. That was a time for grace and common ground.”

The debt extension raises the nations borrowing limit by $480 billion and preserves the United States’ credit through December 3rd, the same time that government funding is set to expire. With both parties drawing new lines in the sand, it remains unclear how that impasse will be resolved. Republicans say Democrats can and will need to use the budget reconciliation process to enact further debt increases. Democrats for their part say they will not and want a bipartisan process.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said it was “egregious” that the debt-limit situation got to this point and pointed a finger at Senate Republicans’ refusal to advance a longer-term solution. “The speaker and I have both spoken with Treasury Secretary Yellen, who said that if the House fails to act next week, the country will be unable to pay its bills. This cannot happen,” said Hoyer.

The House returns from recess next week and will quickly pass the Senate debt limit extension, which President Biden will sign.  Debate about the bi-partisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill is ongoing and likely to continue for some time.

Three Nominees for Top Positions in the Department of Education Confirmed

On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed three nominees for top positions in the Department of Education: Gwen Graham will become Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs, Roberto J. Rodríguez will serve as the Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development and Elizabeth “Lisa” Merrill Brown will be the Department’s next General Counsel. In a statement Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona praised the confirmations:

“With these confirmations the Biden Administration and the American people gain three more dedicated and distinguished public service professionals. Together, they will help to advance the Department’s legal and policy efforts and ensure effective collaboration with the federal, state, and local officials who represent our shared constituents. As General Counsel, Lisa Brown brings a passion for justice, a wise legal mind, and a thorough command of education issues to the Department’s work of ensuring equal access to a quality education for all students.  Roberto Rodríguez, in the role of Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, will turn skills honed over a notable career to ensuring that this agency’s actions are grounded in evidence, in the experience of educators, and in equitable approaches that meet the needs of students. And surely no one is better equipped for the role of Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs than Gwen Graham, herself a former member of Congress and a civic and public education leader with a remarkable record of service and impact. All of them recognize the life-changing power of a great education, and I am delighted to welcome these outstanding individuals to the agency. I know they will work tirelessly in the best interests of the nation’s students, families, educators, and communities.”

Three of President Biden’s nominees for top positions in the department are still awaiting confirmation: Amy Loyd, Sandra Bruce, and Catherine Lhamon—nominees for Assistant Secreatry for Career, Technical, and Adult Education; Inspector General; and Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights respectively. The Senate HELP Committee considered Lhamon’s nomination in August, but deadlocked along party lines with an 11-11 vote. Lhamon previously led the Department’s Office for Civil Rights during the Obama Administration. For her nomination to advance, Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) must discharge her nomination and hold four hours of debate before a confirmation vote may take place on the Senate floor. He has begun that process.

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


Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant