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Governing by Way of Regular Order

December 8, 2015
Weekly Columns

With just a few short weeks left in the year, I am pleased to report that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress are working together to find common ground on issues that matter to the American people. In fact, last week alone brought with it legislative victories that proved the federal government can function under regular order--even when it is divided.  

First, the U.S House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and also fix glaring nationwide problems in the education system that have prevented many students from making the grade. Negotiated by conferees in the House and Senate, the ESEA Conference Report specifically repeals the significant shortfalls of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which greatly increased the federal government’s role in K-12 education across the country after it became law. 

While well-intentioned at the time of its passage, NCLB has instead led to a decline in learning and academic readiness since it was signed into law in 2002. In place of the excessive federal intervention ushered in by NCLB, the ESEA Conference Report allows states and local education leaders to develop criteria and maintain responsibility for measuring the success of students and schools, addressing failures and filling learning gaps. It prohibits a federal mandate requiring states to follow Common Core standards and protects private and home schools from needless federal involvement. The legislation also makes information available to parents about school performance and charter and magnet school programs, so they can have a more active role in selecting the best education for their children.

Second, both chambers passed and sent legislation to the president’s desk that invests in our nation’s roads, bridges and rails.  At its core, the legislation shows commitment to a safe, efficient and well-maintained infrastructure. The long-term measure offers greater certainty to projects at the state and local level, helps move people and products and keeps our economy strong and vibrant. Commonly known as the “Highway Bill,” the Conference Report for this measure authorizes funding for five years--the longest timeframe set out in years. While it isn’t perfect and I am concerned about its use of funding mechanisms that are unrelated to the transportation system, I still believe it is a worthwhile compromise that reflects the best interests of the American people.

As legislative work for the year continues to wind down and especially as lawmakers consider legislation to fund the government this week, I am hopeful that we can continue the responsible momentum of coming to agreement in a timely manner rather than dangerously governing crisis by crisis.