Washington Update: Pre-2016 Election

Congress has been on recess since the end of September and won’t return until after November 8th. It is a very tight Presidential race, and for many House and Senate seats. The results in each of these may determine if Congress becomes less contentious, more bipartisan, pass critical legislation. and approve numerous bench vacancies including the Supreme Court.

Election results can influence the legislative agenda during a lame duck session of Congress. Several bills could be completed during this session. A good part of Congress’ willingness to be active will be determined by the election’s outcomes.

A Lame Duck Congress
Before Congress recessed, it passed a continuing resolution to keep the Federal government open until early December. This means Congress must vote on another continuing resolution until the next Congress is seated or take a different approach to fund the government for FY2017 fiscal year.

The House passed the reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and awaits Senate action during the lame duck session. There is a limited amount of time for a vote and a conference committee, but it is doable. If not, the bill will have be reintroduced when the new Congress convenes in January.

Both Republican chairs of the House and Senate Committees overseeing education have voiced significant objections to the proposed rule published in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of Education for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). One of the biggest concerns is over the definition of “supplement not supplant.” Numerous comments have been submitted on the proposed rule and there are ongoing conversations with Congressional staff and members. No final rule has been published nor has any date been set.

Kline has also voice objection to the teacher preparation rules just published. He stated, “…this new rule does not reflect the bipartisan consensus that was reached in our recent efforts to improve K-12 education. This is an issue policymakers should discuss and resolve through broader reforms of the Higher Education Act…”

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act will occur during the next Congress. Both Senate and House committees have begun work on the reauthorization bill.

Another outstanding issue has to do with student loans and grants of those students who were enrolled in for-profit postsecondary institutions, such as ITT Tech and Corinthian. These and others similar schools have closed due to bankruptcy or violating proper use of federal funds. There is a significant ongoing effort underway by members of Congress and the Education Department to find a way to forgive existing loans, extend eligibility for Pell grants, extend GI Bill eligibility and insure students do not lose credits for completed course work towards a degree or certificate.

Happening Now
Even though the election has yet to be held, transition teams are already at work in Washington preparing for the change over.

For Donald Trump, Governor Chris Christie’s former chief of staff Rich Bagger is managing the day-to-day operation of the Trump transition team. Trump has named two people to lead his education transition team — Bill Evers and Gerard Robinson. Evers served in the department during President George W. Bush and works at the Hoover Institution. Robinson is a former Virginia Secretary of Education and currently works at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ann O’Leary is managing Hillary Clinton’s transition team on a day-to-day basis. She has been a senior policy advisor for the candidate and served in the Department of Education and White House during President Bill Clinton. Four–people are leading the education transition team. They are Chris Edley, former Education Secretary Richard Riley, Carmel Martin and Cindy Brown. Edley served in the White House during the Clinton administration, and is the former dean of Boalt Law School, University of California, Berkeley. Riley is the first two-time governor of South Carolina, a Clinton cabinet officer and a practicing attorney. Martin worked for the late Senator Ted Kennedy, served as an Assistant Secretary during the Obama Administration, and is the Executive Vice President of the Center for American Progress. Brown is a former Assistant Secretary during the Carter Administration, worked at the Council of Chief State School Officers and headed the education unit at the Center for American Progress.

You can expect others to be named to each transition team after the election.

Looking Forward
There will be several significant changes in the makeup of Congress. Senate Minority leader Harry Reid is retiring and Democrats will select Senator Charles Schumer (New York) to take the leadership post. If Democrats take control of the Senate, Schumer would become majority leader. This outcome would change Mitch McConnell’s leadership position.

Similarly, in the House, Paul Ryan is currently the Speaker, but if the Democrats take control Nancy Pelosi would become Speaker. Ryan is having a difficult time with the Freedom Caucus in the House. They would like to replace him, but it is unlikely.

Representative John Kline is retiring and will no longer chair the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. His successor is most likely Virginia Foxx (North Carolina), if Republicans retain control. Representative Bobby Short (Virginia) is the ranking minority member of the committee.

In the Senate, there could be a variety of changes. For example, Patty Murray (Washington) is the ranking minority member on the Senate Committee on Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and is a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Barbara Mukulski is retiring so Murray will become the ranking minority member. If the Democrats gain control of the Senate, it is not clear which committee Murray will choose to chair. Senator Bernie Sanders has voiced his interest in chairing the HELP Committee.

There will be other shake-ups in both houses no matter who gains or maintains the majority.

Now, it is a waiting game until November 9 (or later) when the election is over and the results are tabulated. Then, we will know who will be in control of the White House and each house of Congress, and in what direction the country may take.

Just hold your breath and wait.

About the Author

Fritz Edelstein is a principal in Public Private Action. His work focuses on strategic government and constituent relations, business development strategy, advocacy research and policy analysis, strategic planning and resource development, and advocacy, outreach and public engagement. This work includes producing Fritzwire, the education Internet newsletter providing timely information on education and related issues. To subscribe, write [email protected].