September 25, 2015

Sorry, Folks, ESEA Reauthorization Just Got Much Harder

By Bellwether

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Some folks are claiming that news that House Speaker John Boehner will step down at the end of October makes an ESEA reauthorization more likely this fall. That’s just crazy talk. Here’s just a smattering of the list of things the House has on its plate right now:

  • Fund the entire government, which must be done by next Wednesday. (Boehner’s move may make a short-term fix more likely, but we’re still going to need another budget deal by December.)
  • Fund the highway trust fund, which expires at the end of October. After that, states would not be able to go ahead with any new federally funded transportation projects.
  • Increase the federal debt limit, which will be reached later this fall.
  • Elect a new Speaker.

I could go on: Business leaders want Congress to renew the Export-Import Bank and Democrats want to raise the budget caps set in place by the budget sequester. So even though ESEA is 8 (coming up on 9) years overdue for reauthorization, it’s not a matter of dire urgency like these other things are.
Those are pure logistics, but the politics of ESEA don’t get any easier with Boehner’s departure. In fact, they’re a sign that the politics are much harder than anyone had admitted publicly. The House GOP barely passed its version of a bill, the Student Success Act, on a party-line vote earlier this summer. That bill was barely conservative enough for the House GOP (passing just 218-213), and President Obama and Democrats in the Senate signaled they would not sign off on that bill, which lacks protections for students or taxpayers. Boehner’s departure has likely already set off a leadership crisis behind closed doors, and the next Speaker is going to have an even tougher time trying to broker compromise. And I haven’t even mentioned next year’s presidential elections, which will heat up as we get closer to the actual voting that begins in February.
Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander told the Washington Post he’s eyeing Thanksgiving for a potential deal, but that will come squarely amidst all these other fights. Worse, a new Speaker of the House will be just weeks into the job. I’d be extremely surprised if that person wants to cut a deal on education with President Obama and Senate Democrats as his or her their first orders of business. My best guess: Boehner’s departure pushes ESEA reauthorization back until 2017 or 2018.

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