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Bipartisan negotiations to overhaul federal job-training programs are picking up again, with Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., hoping to usher a bill through the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before the August recess.
“We don’t have a set timeline yet,” said a labor policy staffer for Isakson, who noted that HELP Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and ranking member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., have indicated that Isakson and Murray should “have something to move here this summer.”
The duo has been working behind the scenes since the start of this Congress, building on a draft bill they crafted last year along with Harkin and then-ranking member Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo.
The teamwork stands in stark contrast to partisan House debate in March over a GOP-sponsored job-training overhaul (HR 803) that passed with the support of only two Democrats. But both Senate proponents contend it’s the only way for the legislation to move forward.
“It won’t move if it’s not bipartisan,” said another Senate aide helping to craft the measure.
Democrats and Republicans agree that the 1998 Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220), which expired in 2003, needs updating. And, according to the aide, both sides of the aisle had already signed off on 95 percent of the policy language in last year’s Senate draft bill that Murray and Isakson began working with.
“We used that draft as a starting point so we wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Isakson’s labor staffer said. “We have made a lot of changes and more changes are to come. But negotiations are ongoing and we’re making progress.”
Isakson and Murray recently floated a broad outline of their latest draft to various stakeholders, including the National Governors Association, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, indicating they have a solid framework for the reauthorization. Their bill will likely be unveiled toward the end of this month or in early July.
“So far everyone is conceptually OK with our outline,” Isakson’s staffer said. “Everyone seems to be encouraged by our outline.”
Although this year’s bill will be somewhat different, the earlier Senate proposal put in place a national job-training system and eliminated the piecemeal, state-by-state programs that currently exist. It also created an “innovation fund” to spur states to form partnerships with business and education groups to train workers for the jobs in greatest demand.