Dan Holler

Let me be the first to thank Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

Later this week, he will make some old bulls in the United States Senate very uncomfortable – and that is a good thing considering the Senate Establishment has never hesitated to expand government and spend taxpayer dollars. Senator Paul is planning to bombard a Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee markup with amendments -- many, many amendments. His target will be the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

As Vice President Biden would say, this is “a big [freaking] deal.”

It would be the ninth reauthorization of the 1965 law, which is the largest federal law governing K thru 12 education policy. The previous reauthorization, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), cost taxpayers roughly $131 billion between 2005 and 2010. NCLB also significantly expanded the federal role in education, weakened state control and stifled innovation at the local level.

Enter Senator Paul, who is going to sit through a grueling markup and offer amendment after amendment to a terrible piece of legislation that the committee’s chairman Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) drafted behind closed doors. Senator Harkin and President Obama have incorrectly interpreted the broad, bipartisan dissatisfaction with No Child Left Behind as a mandate to rewrite the law to further empower the federal government, albeit in different ways. The consequences of Senator Harkin’s proposal are sweeping and there is plenty to discuss in the 860-page bill.

In an era of diminished transparency and massive bills, a robust and well-planned amendment process is necessary. Senator Paul is taking on the “pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it” mentality that saddled our nation with Obamacare. Subjecting every line of any legislation to discussion and amendment is one of the most important ways conservatives can begin reining in our government’s excesses.

Committee amendments are also one of the only ways conservatives can amend or even get a vote on legislation in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has made a disturbing habit of blocking most amendments that conservatives want to bring to the Senate floor. He is allowing approximately 1 amendment for every 2.7 amendments Republicans allowed when they last controlled the Senate. Two weeks ago Senator Reid unilaterally moved to change the Senate rules – the so-called “nuclear option” – to make it even more difficult for Senators to offer amendments.

Offering amendments, evaluating failed programs and advocating serious reforms should be the norm in Washington. Unfortunately, the Washington Establishment disagrees. Rather, they prefer bills to be drafted behind closed doors and have carefully scripted public hearings, markups and debates.

So it will not be surprising when Senator Paul’s courageous effort is met with scorn by the Washington Establishment. But remember, real conservatives don’t come to Washington to be popular; they come to Washington to save the American dream. When talking about Washington last week with a reporter, conservative freshman Representative Steve Southerland (R-FL) said, “I don’t like this place.” It is hard for any conservative to like Washington, which is dominated by Establishment interests that are almost always at odds with policies that promote freedom, opportunity and prosperity.

It would be easy for lawmakers to ignore Senator Harkin’s proposal; in fact, many will and that is exactly what the Washington Establishment wants. They want conservative lawmakers to decide it is not worth the fight. They want conservatives to fear being labeled “obstructionists” or “extremists.”

In fact, if you tune into C-SPAN 2 this week and watch the Senate floor you would never know there are two competing visions for America’s future. Instead, you will see a bipartisan collection of Senate leaders and appropriators who are cautiously optimistic they can avoid a fight and successfully guide a $128 billion spending bill through the Senate’s arcane legislative process.

Anytime a bipartisan group of appropriators say something is a good idea, Americans should be cautious. That bipartisan, “show we can govern mentality” is one of the reasons America’s debt is fast approaching $15 billion. Fortunately, Senator Paul is giving Americans reason for optimism, demonstrating the will to fight for our country’s future remains a top priority for some lawmakers in Washington.


Dan Holler

Dan Holler is the Communications Director for Heritage Action for America. Previously, he held numerous positions at The Heritage Foundation, most recently he was the Senate Relations Deputy. A Maryland native, he is a graduate of Washington College.