By The Hill Staff - 10/25/11 11:46 PM EDT
House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House are frustrated with the lack of legislation coming out of the 112th Congress.
The parties, of course, blame each other. The GOP-controlled House has called on President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to move 15 bipartisan jobs bills that have cleared the lower chamber.
But despite the partisan finger-pointing, there is at least one bill that has bipartisan momentum: Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law.
Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, recently struck a deal with the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), and the measure cleared the panel last week, 15-7.
There is a decent chance that the Senate will tackle the bill before the end of 2011; Harkin said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program that he is hoping for a vote by Christmas.
He also indicated he has reached a deal with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on how the bill will overcome procedural obstacles on the Senate floor, but declined to elaborate.
The politics of this legislation are fascinating, because both left and right have attacked it. Liberal groups lament the lack of performance targets, while Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) have ripped the way Harkin moved the measure through committee.
Yet the bill was supported by other senators on the committee, notably Alexander, who is a member of the Republican leadership.
Alexander, a former Education secretary, announced this fall that he will be leaving his leadership post. He wants to legislate, and said his decision was liberating. The implication was that as a member of leadership, his hands have been tied.
The 15-7 vote in committee signals that the floor vote could attract a lot of bipartisan support (especially because there are Republicans who voted no in committee, but might vote yes on the final bill).
Passage of the measure would be a significant accomplishment for Harkin, and it would put the House on the spot. House Republicans want to move education legislation this Congress on a piecemeal approach, which would present major challenges in conference negotiations.
Politically, Senate Democrats could use the passage of Harkin’s bill as ammunition against the House GOP in the 2012 elections. That dynamic could give Republicans a reason to block the bill.
But for the moment, Harkin’s legislation is on the move in what has been a slow-moving Congress.