The House passed an education overhaul bill on Wednesday night — barely.
In a nail-biting and lengthy vote sequence, Republican leaders and their allies succeeded in passing a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law, 218-213. Every Democrat voted "no." So did 27 Republicans who were irked the bill didn't do enough to put states in control of education policy, especially after the chamber failed to adopt an amendment designed to placate lawmakers looking to roll back federal power.
The amendment, known as A-PLUS, would have allowed states to opt out of federally funded education programs while still receiving federal funding. It went down, 195-235, with all but 49 Republicans voting "yes."
On final passage, 26 of the 27 Republican "yes" votes on A-PLUS became "no" votes on the rewrite, as a contingent of most of the chamber's most hard-line conservatives and affiliates of the House Freedom Caucus abandoned GOP leadership. The outlier who opposed A-PLUS along with final passage was Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.
As the clock ticked down on the five-minute voting window Wednesday evening, members sat mostly in stunned silence as the vote began to look doomed. When time expired with the tally at 206-212, Democrats began shouting, "Regular order!" in hopes of persuading the presiding officer to gavel the vote to a close.
But Republicans held the vote open and twisted arms. Slowly but surely, the tally started to look more favorable. When it finally made it to a passing breakdown, 215-212, Republicans cheered. The presiding officer at the time, Arkansas Republican Steve Womack, who is often in the chair during a dicey vote — as he was during the controversial "doc fix" vote in March 2014 — swiftly moved to close the vote with the passing tally.
But he was overruled by his own side, with a group of Republicans shouting to stop his gavel to allow some GOP colleagues to vote, those who were apparently waiting for the bill to prove it could pass before going on the record in support.
As three Republicans — Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, John Ratcliffe of Texas and Doug Lamborn of Colorado — marched to the dais to register their votes after the electronic devices had been locked out, Massachusetts Democrat Michael E. Capuano shouted from across the floor, "What'd you get for it?"
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, cast a rare "yes" vote to help make up for the shortfall.
Though close, final passage of the bill was a victory for GOP leaders and, really, for any lawmaker who wants to replace No Child Left Behind before the end of the 114th Congress, even all the Democrats who voted "no."
The Senate is currently advancing its own education overhaul bill across the Rotunda, and passage of that more bipartisan blueprint would ensure a conference committee. Conventional wisdom is the Senate bill would provide much of the basis for what gets sent to the president's desk.
House Republican leaders went into Wednesday's vote confident the bill would pass, with or without adoption of the A-PLUS amendment.
Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., who received a rare waiver to serve a fourth term as the panel's top Republican and for whom this measure has become a legacy issue, said member engagement made all the difference between pulling the bill from the floor in February and passing the legislation in July.
"There was a great misinformation campaign," Kline told reporters earlier in the day Wednesday. "We've had a chance to think about it, we've had discussions with members on all sides of the issue and I think people now have a much clearer understanding of what this bill does. I expect it to pass."
Still, the decision to make additional amendments in order for debate in this second and final round of consideration hinted that, at least at some level, House GOP leaders recognized they needed to give lawmakers more opportunities to go on record with certain positions relating to the legislation.
The House adopted by voice vote an amendment changing the authorization time frame from six years to four years, for instance.
Another amendment, offered by Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., would allow parents to opt their children out of testing requirements. It passed, 251-187, despite strong opposition from education groups including the Chamber of Commerce.
Salmon said passage of the final bill without adoption of the A-PLUS amendment would be "dicey."
Having received a victory on his provision, he ultimately voted "yes" on advancing the legislation.
Sarah Chacko, Connor O'Brien, Samar Khurshid and Nicole Puglise contributed to this report.
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