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Alexander: Democratic “Gag Rule” on Important Amendments Has Moved from Senate Floor to Committees

Alexander prevented from offering amendments to reverse trend toward national school board, stop college rating system, protect worker privacy, and inform public of Obamacare facts


“Offering amendments on behalf of the people who elected us is a job I’m proud to do. If senators aren’t willing to do what they’re elected to do, no one is making them be here.” –Lamar Alexander

Washington, D.C., June 12 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today called on his Senate colleagues to schedule a markup that was reportedly postponed to avoid forcing senators to vote on amendments to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, saying, “offering amendments on behalf of the people who elected us is a job I’m proud to do.”

Alexander, the senior Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said: “The Democratic gag rule on important amendments has moved from the Senate floor to committees. This is a new level of obstruction. I hope to have the opportunity to offer these amendments at a markup and to represent the people of Tennessee who have sent me here to represent their views.”

In a speech on the Senate floor, Alexander detailed the four amendments he was intending to offer to:

  1. Reverse the trend toward a national school board
  2. Stop the federal college rating system
  3. Protect worker privacy
  4. Inform the public of Obamacare facts

1.   An amendment to reverse the trend toward a National School Board for elementary and secondary education by protecting state control over their academic standards and tests.

“My amendment does this by prohibiting the Department from exercising any influence over the academic standards states use to define what students should know and be able to do; and the tests states use to determine whether students have met those standards.

“It also prohibits the Department from requiring or incentivizing states to adopt common standards and tests: as a condition of an award of a federal grant or contract; by providing additional points or a preference in a competitive grant program; or as a condition of approval for waivers of requirements under No Child Left Behind or any Federal law.

“In other words, the amendment directs the federal government to keep its sticky fingers off of state standards and not to interfere with the hard work states are doing to raise expectations for their students.

Federal law makes it clear that Congress does not want federal involvement in educational standards and curriculum, Alexander said. “But this Administration has used the combination of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and waivers from No Child Left Behind to, in effect, convert itself into a National School Board, making decisions that states and local communities ought to make for themselves, particularly decisions about standards and tests.

“Under Race to the Top, the Department gave additional points to states which participated in the development of and adopted the Common Core standards, using the prospect of receiving federal funds to coerce states into joining the Common Core. More recently, the Administration has used its waiver authority under No Child Left Behind to impose on states new requirements on standards that are not contemplated in—and, I believe, prohibited by—federal law.

“This amendment would strictly prohibit that overreach.”

 2.   An amendment to prevent the Department of Education from developing a rating system for our nation’s 6,000 colleges and universities.

“This amendment would prohibit the Department of Education from using any federal funding to develop, refine, publish or implement a college ratings system.

“We don’t need the government to make these decisions for our 22 million college students. We need the information to make these decisions for ourselves.”

Alexander quoted a Brookings Institution expert who said, “There is a clear case to be made for the federal government using its authority to gather data like these for postsecondary institutions that receive taxpayer funding, but little precedent for the government producing ratings. The Securities and Exchange Commission regulates stocks and bonds, but leaves it to private organizations to rate them.  The Department of Transportation sets standards for the calculation of cars’ gas mileage, but does not opine on whether a Ford is better than a Toyota.  The Food and Drug Administration decides which pharmaceuticals can be sold in the U.S., but does not say whether Advil is better for a headache than Tylenol.”

“In other words, this is not the job of the federal government,” Alexander said. “I also have serious practical concerns about the Department’s ability to even begin this effort.”

“I believe that it is going to fall on its face even before it’s written.”

 3.   An amendment to rein in the Obama administration’s out-of-control National Labor Relations Board by stopping it from requiring employers to give labor unions their employees’ personal email addresses and cell phone numbers, or forcing employers to open up email systems for union organizing.

Since 1966, the NLRB has required employers to provide a union with a list of names and home addresses of employees eligible to vote in a union representation election.  This is called the Excelsior list. In February 2014, the NLRB re-proposed expanding the Excelsior list in the ambush elections proposed rule. The NLRB’s proposed expansion of the Excelsior language would require employers to include voter-eligible employees’ personal telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, work locations, shift times, and job classifications on the Excelsior list. The amendment would also block the NLRB from reversing current policy and forcing businesses to allow pro-union employees to use employer-owned email and other electronic systems to send out union organizing propaganda.   

Alexander cited examples of unions violating workers’ privacy. In one case, in 2010, agents of Communication Workers of America Local 1103 in Connecticut used personal information that they attained about one woman who did not support the union to sign her up for hundreds of unsolicited and unwanted magazines and consumer products.

“As I’ve said before, the National Labor Relations Board has become far too politicized under recent administrations,” Alexander said. “That didn’t start with the Obama administration, but it’s gotten worse with this administration as it has moved toward the side of union advocacy with such things as ambush elections and micro-unions and undermining state right-to-work laws.”

“The National Labor Relations Board should be an umpire rather than an advocate,” he said.

4.   An amendment to require the Obama Administration to be honest with the public about Obamacare by reporting basic facts on the federally-run insurance exchange for 36 states, such as the number of people signed up and making premium payments.

Alexander introduced similar legislation as a standalone bill last year and the House of Representatives passed that bill on January 16, 2014, by a bipartisan vote of 259 to 154. A total of 33 House Democrats voted to pass the legislation.

“It’s very simple and it shouldn’t be controversial or a ‘tough’ vote for any senator,” Alexander said. “It would simply require the Obama administration to provide weekly reports during open enrollment to Congress, states, and the public about the federally-run exchange for 36 states.”

“This is the Internet age—even before the Internet age, McDonald’s could tell you how many hamburgers it was selling every day, and RCA could tell you how many Elvis Presley albums it had left on the shelves.”

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For access to this release and Ranking Member Alexander’s other statements, click here.