Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) listens during a committee hearing on legislation… (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated…)
Republican Sen. Rand Paul may not have the clout in Congress to reach his goal of eliminating the Department of Education, but he can do a close second: shut down the Senate committee trying to pass sweeping new federal education legislation.
The Kentucky senator dug deep into the procedural arsenal Wednesday to halt the committee that was meeting to revamp the No Child Left Behind legislation.
The bill has broad bipartisan support and was expected to clear the panel later this week. Senate rules limit committee meetings to two hours while the Senate is in session – a rule that is routinely broken with unanimous agreement of the senators. But as is the case in the Senate, any one senator has the power to object. On Wednesday, Paul did just that.
“I’m one of the old-fashioned conservatives who does believe that schools are and should be under local and state control,” Paul said as he mounted his objection from the Senate floor. “There’s no provisions for the federal government to be involved. Period.”
Paul objected to being given limited time to read the 868-page bill. He wanted more hearings to receive testimony from teachers. He filed 74 amendments – more than half of the 144 the committee was negotiating.
Those trying to carry on the business of the day were incensed.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, the usually mild-mannered former superintendent of Denver public schools, unloaded.
"The senator speaks of the tragedy of this process. I’ll tell you what a tragedy is. The tragedy is that only nine of 100 children living in poverty in the country in 2011 can expect to get a college degree. That’s a tragedy,” Bennet said.
"I actually looked forward to hearing the senator from Kentucky’s amendments. I wanted to know what they were,” Bennet continued. “I'd be happy to meet 24 hours a day to talk about this subject with the senator from Kentucky.”
They may have to. Senate rules allow a committee to meet for as long as it likes when the chamber is not in session – and next week, the Senate has a scheduled recess.
Actually, the senators may have more in common than they let on. The legislation would undo the President George W. Bush-era law that Paul, Bennet and others consider an overreach of the federal government into education.
Aides say the prospect of staying in Washington next week to finish debating the bill is yet to be determined.
“If senators think we will be deterred in our determination to move this bill through committee, I can assure you that is not the case,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the committee chairman. “ We can start early, we can stay late. We will complete work on this bill.”