Senate GOP leader: I have no secret pact with Democrats on education reform

A Senate Republican leader is pushing back against claims that he and Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Trump should require federal contractors to follow the law Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate MORE have a secret plan to pass the Iowa Democrat’s education reform bill. 

During an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program last month, Harkin said he and Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate Overnight Regulation: Omnibus includes deal on tip-pooling rule | Groups sue over rules for organic livestock | AT&T, DOJ make opening arguments in merger trial Warren presses Mulvaney, Azar on tip pooling MORE (Tenn.) had ironed out a bipartisan strategy to pass a retooled No Child Left Behind bill through the upper chamber.

In October, Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said he and Alexander, who sits on the committee, had come up with a surefire plan to pass the legislation on the Senate floor.

At the time, Harkin said, “Sen. Alexander came up with, I thought, a very good idea on how we would handle this on the floor,” calling the plan “quite ingenious” but declining to elaborate.

Alexander, a former Education secretary, told The Hill that he is unaware of such a scheme.

“The only discussions that several of us had … was that this would seem to be a piece of legislation that has bipartisan support — still a lot of work to be done on it,” Alexander said Tuesday. “It’s the kind of bill that perhaps we could persuade Senate Republicans to agree that we would only allow relevant amendments if [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [(D-Nev.)] would agree that all of those amendments could be debated and voted on and considered.”

Alexander said that situation was “the only thing we’ve talked about.”

The reform legislation passed the HELP Committee 15-7 in October, attracting bipartisan support. Alexander voted to approve the education overhaul bill. 

Harkin wants the legislation on the floor by either Thanksgiving or Christmas.

In response to Alexander’s comments, HELP Committee spokeswoman Justine Sessions said Harkin’s comments were in reference to early discussions. 

“Chairman Harkin was referencing some very preliminary conversations about how to move forward with the bipartisan bill to fix NCLB recently approved by the HELP Committee,” Sessions said in a news release.

Alexander earlier this year announced he is leaving his leadership post at the end of this year, suggesting the move could free him up to work to pass bipartisan bills. 

Meanwhile, Harkin’s measure has sparked opposition from liberal and conservative senators, as well as some stakeholder groups. Liberals wanted the bill to include performance targets, while conservatives such as Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump GOP senator threatened to hold up bill over provision to honor late political rival: report Conservatives balk over funding bill ahead of shutdown  MORE (R-Ky.) and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Cybersecurity: House Intel votes to release Russia report | House lawmakers demand Zuckerberg testify | Senators unveil updated election cyber bill Senators introduced revised version of election cyber bill Overnight Cybersecurity: Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica | Senators grill DHS chief on election security | Omnibus to include election cyber funds | Bill would create 'bug bounty' for State MORE (R-N.C.) cried foul over how the legislation moved through committee.

Moving the bill through the Senate could put the House GOP majority in a politically tough spot. Should the measure clear the upper chamber, both the White House and Senate Democrats could call on the House to move the bill.

House Republicans have adopted a piecemeal approach to revising No Child Left Behind. It remains unlikely that a comprehensive education reform bill will be signed into law in the 112th Congress.