What Congress Did on Its Summer Vacation ... and What You Vacation Can Do This Fall

By Dewitt, Stephen | Techniques, September 2008 | Go to article overview

What Congress Did on Its Summer Vacation ... and What You Vacation Can Do This Fall


Dewitt, Stephen, Techniques


IT IS NO SECRET THAT PROGRESS IN WASHINGTON BEGINS TO WANE IN THE SUMMER MONTHS and comes to a screeching halt in August as many Members of Congress return home to campaign for re-election. The lack of progress was exacerbated this year due to the presidential election. Virtually every politician and many staff leave town to attend the Democrat and Republican national conventions and campaign for their respective candidates. Although Congress returns for a brief stint in September, it will likely adjourn near the end of the month until January when the new 111th Congress will take its seat. That leaves roughly three months of time in addition to the summer slowdown during which no work will be completed. It is disappointing that this summer's election focus and partisan gridlock resulted in very little action.

Let's review what happened with important education and workforce laws.

The Higher Education Act reauthorization remained in limbo for much of the summer due to a handful of issues that could not be resolved. There is still hope of getting it completed, but time is running out. No Child Left Behind was due to be reauthorized last year but that deadline has long since passed and there is no hope of it moving to a vote in education committees before next year, much less the full Congress. The attention paid to the Workforce Investment Act this year was barely enough to register a blip on the Congressional radar screen. With regard to funding, the story was much the same. That process stalled in the House because of partisan debate, and there will likely be no Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 funding bills approved at all this year. Programs will have to operate under a continuing resolution at the same federal funding levels received in FY 2008 until some further action is taken.

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Why the Stall on the Hill

While the primary responsibility of Congressional inaction is due to Congress, I. want to first look at the issue from a different point of view. Policymakers hear from many different constituents and advocates about what legislation should look like and what should be made a priority. Often, Congressional progress is slowed down because Senators and Representatives are working with competing interests and are trying to appease different constituencies. Their political life depends upon finding the correct balance of polling results and an agenda that addresses the concerns of a majority within their states and districts.

Get Involved!

As members of the CTE community and potential voters, you have great potential to influence the debates that are informing candidates' positions and future votes. I encourage you to look for opportunities to address your Senators and Representative during this election season. Ensure that they, and those running against them, make CTE, education and workforce programs a priority. Make an effort to drop by that town hall meeting to voice your concerns. Ask an incumbent about the reasons important legislation has not moved forward and ask both incumbents and those running against them what they will do to change the partisan atmosphere in Washington.

Let candidates know that CTE needs to be a priority and that it holds the potential to provide the positive "change" that many campaigns are looking for and talking about this season. If you are able, volunteer to serve on a platform committee where you can actually help to formulate the candidate's agenda. Last but not least, if you know a candidate who has been a good CTE advocate, ask them if they will take an additional step of leading advocacy efforts on CTE issues in the House and Senate.

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What Congress Did on Its Summer Vacation ... and What You Vacation Can Do This Fall
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