It was one of those unusual times when a Republican congressman would propose something out of the ordinary. But it is no longer unusual for the US Congress or any congress in any country in the world for that matter.
Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican congressman from the 4th District of Kentucky introduced a one-sentence bill in the House where he proposed to scrap the US Department of Education by December 31, 2018.
It is a strange bill as President Donald Trump already made clear his intention for the education department when he nominated Betsy DeVos for the portfolio.
In fact, her confirmation hearing on the Senate floor early this month also became historic as it needed Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie in the Senate on whether to confirm or reject DeVos for the position of secretary of the Department of Education.
In short, Trump and the Republicans do not see the US Department of Education being scrapped during his four-year term and the bill of Rep. Massie seemed like it came out of nowhere.
Throwing out rules
The House of Representatives also voted to throw out a lot of rules that were decided on just last year.
These rules tell states how to comply with the new federal education law with regard to identifying and improving underperforming schools, as well as evaluating teacher preparation programs in higher education.
Speculations about DeVos and what her leadership might bring to the Education Department has become a talk-of-the-town issue in the US.
David Schoenbrod, a professor at New York Law School and the author of several books about the congressional role in crafting law and regulation, says that the Education Department is unlikely to be eliminated, particularly by a bill that declines to specify who or what would take over its $68 billion annual budget and the functions of data collection, oversight, civil rights enforcement and student aid, among others.
Posturing from both parties
He added that whatever people think about the Department of Education, the idea that it could be eliminated with a one-sentence bill is just posturing, reports NPR.
Schoenbrod says that posturing is not something that’s just done by Democrats or by Republicans. It’s done by both.
The issue is personal for Schoenbrod. Back in the 1970s, he was a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, fighting for Congress to ban lead in gasoline, which made its way into the air, water and the bloodstreams of children with harmful and deadly effect.
Because legislators did not specify a timeline or a mechanism, he argues, enforcement was delayed by a decade. He said that they voted for the symbolism but didn’t want to take responsibility for how it was done.
In the field of environmental law, he explained that the form of kicking the can down the road is known as symbolic legislation.
The fate of those regulations, part of the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA, is a slightly different matter. But it’s also something that Schoenbrod has experience with. The House is invoking an obscure power granted by something called the Congressional Review Act.
Schoenbrod has long advocated for requiring Congress to vote on the details of how laws are implemented.
The professor explained that the Constitution was against taxation or regulation without representation.
But the Congressional Review Act as it now exists is different. It just gives Congress the power to throw the rules out, not the responsibility for making new ones.
In this case, if the House bill passes the Senate and receives the president’s signature, it will then be up to the states to decide how to fulfill ESSA when it comes to defining and correcting schools that consistently perform below expectations.