A great deal of attention this month has centered on the ongoing Highway funding saga and the fight over a long term funding proposal versus yet another extension, as well as the sometimes less than decorous debate on the recently announced Iran agreement. These issues, along with the exploits of the seemingly endless additions to the presidential field, are what have captured and held the public's attention.
All this noise overshadowed a very important, semi-miraculous event that occurred in the Senate this month. Debate, amendments and votes were held on an updated version of the No Child Left Behind education policy, and it passed with a bipartisan vote of 81-17. That's right, the Senate considered a bill on a very controversial issue, they debated it, offered and voted up or down on amendments, and sent it to the House with an overwhelming vote of approval.
This rare event occurred because the chairman and ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) worked together to produce a bill that could pass -- this kind of statesmanship is what we used to see often in Congress. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) sat down and worked through a myriad of controversial issues without giving in to the temptation to let politics override good policy. They did this not only through the committee process, but through hours of debate on the Senate floor as well.
The fact this happens rarely is sad. Legislating is the ultimate art of compromise -- which unfortunately today seems to be a dirty word inside the Beltway. But both Alexander, a former governor and Secretary of Education, and Murray, who worked out the 2011 budget deal with then-House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), clearly made a decision to make policy instead of playing politics. They are to be commended, heralded, and their example should be heeded by the 533 other members of the House and Senate. They provided a textbook example of how Congress can, and is, supposed to work.
It would have been much easier -- and likely garnered them more media coverage -- if they had chosen to take the easy route -- declare a position while remaining unwilling to discuss the issues and refusing to make any changes to address the other side's concerns. This approach is why we have gridlock on Capitol Hill.
What Alexander and Murray did by simply agreeing to work together is what we used to call legislating -- an art form which seems to have all but disappeared from the halls of the capitol. It is also an example of statesmanship in action. The two Senators are to be applauded for their actions, and the rest of Congress should be held to account when they don't follow the example set by two members who clearly care more about our children's education than about the next election.
When you run into your senators and representatives while they are back home in August, let them know that you want them to follow the path chosen by Senators Alexander and Murray that leads to good policy and not the path that more travelled path that leads to arguments and delays even if it does get their name in the paper.