As the ash of recently ignited fireworks turns to dust and drifts towards the Capital, signs of life have also begun to make their presence known. To that end, S. 1578, the reauthorization of the IDEA has also begun to show faint signs of life.
During the early evening of July 9, Senator Bill Frist and Senator Tom Harkin met with NPND and other members of the disability community and "regular" education lobbyists as well. The discussion was wide ranging but essentially focused on the need for these two groups to once again meet and identify areas of consensus that might differ from the content of S. 1578.
Hence, on Thursday, July 11th these organizations reformed the Parent/Educator Consensus Group that rewrote the House version of the IDEA. Their goal is to produce a series of consensus amendments that can then be utilized as a "manager's package" on the floor of the Senate. (Yeah Larry, but what is a "manager's package" ?----- A "manager's package" normally consists of a series of amendments that have been given to the floor manager of a bill -- usually the sponsor of the bill-- and have widespread if not unanimous support.) Probably no more than three or four amendments will be included in such a package.
After a full day of meeting the Parent/Educator Consensus Group agreed to meet again on Monday, July 15th. During the meeting on July 11th, Senator Lott sent word into the meeting that he would only accept a manager's package that had universal acceptance by those organizations involved in the negotiations. There is strong feeling that if a final package is not reached and acted upon next week that the bill may be dead.
So what about Senator Gorton? As you will recall from an earlier Friday Fax, Senator Gorton has vowed to put several very damaging amendments in S. 1578 that would eliminate punitive and compensatory damages, and would severely limit or eliminate the ability, on the part of parents, to recoup legal fees incurred to protect the educational rights of their children. What impact will a "manager's package" have on him if it does not include the amendments that he wants? There is no easy answer to that question. However, if part of the agreements surrounding the "manager's package" includes an agreement that no further amendments will be sought by any organization involved in the development of the package, it may serve to help isolate Senator Gorton from his colleagues on this issue. It will also allow sponsors of S. 1578 to present a package to the Majority Leader that can truly be represented as a "consensus" of all of the involved organizations (including the National School Board Association and the American Federation of Teachers) which should enable Senator Lott to understand that this fight truly comes down to one man holding up the bipartisan will of the Senate. It also will raise the specter of the majority party turning its back on a "consensus", bi-partisan piece of legislation that its Presidential Candidate endorsed for passage on his last day in the Senate. In short, with a consensus "manager's package", S. 1578 becomes as politically irresistible as possible.
In spite of all of these good things, its still possible that there will be no bill. If there is no bill all of the possibilities discussed in our earlier Friday Fax still apply. For instance, we can expect to see Senator Gorton on the floor with his amendments every time he gets a chance (remember, he can attach his amendments to any bill moving through the Senate); we can expect others such as Senator Ashcroft to also introduce very damaging amendments; and, we face going through this entire exercise again in the next Congress.
On another front, Representative William Goodling attempted during the debate on the Health, Education and Labor appropriations bill to move $291 million into Part B of the IDEA by transferring funds earmarked for a 6.6% increase in the NIH budget. His amendment failed on a voice vote.
NPND will get out information on the continuing unfolding of events related to the reauthorization of the IDEA as they occur. Don't forget to forward us your E-Mail address to add to our list-serve for late breaking news on days other than Friday.