Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, I do want to compliment the HELP Committee and Senator Alexander, who chairs that committee, for the great work they have done in bringing the Every Child Achieves Act legislation to the floor of the Senate. This is long overdue. Anybody who meets with school administrators, teacher groups, parents or school boards realizes that people for a long time have been looking for us to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and to make reforms that
are important and that will return control and power to school districts, to parents, to teachers, and to administrators, rather than having it here centralized in Washington, DC.
So I am pleased that we can have this debate. I am encouraged by the discussion that has already been held and by the willingness of both sides to work together to allow amendments to be considered. This is an important issue--how we educate our children, equipping them, preparing them for the challenges that will be ahead of them. There is no more important task that we have. So to the degree that this legislation makes it more possible for our kids to learn at the very fastest rate possible,
this is something that this Senate ought to be focused on.
I am hopeful that we will be able to get through the amendment process and be able to move this bill across the floor of the Senate and to the House, and hopefully, eventually, to the President's desk. But I think it is also an example of what happens when you get people who are willing to open the Senate process up and allow legislation to be considered.
The Senate has now been under Republican control for a full 6 months. Those months have been some of the most productive that the Senate has seen in a long time. So far this year, the Republican-led Senate has passed more than 45 bipartisan bills, 22 of which have been signed into law by the President. Committees have been hard at work and have reported out more than 150 bills for floor consideration by the full Senate. In May, the Senate passed the first 10-year balanced budget resolution in
over a decade--over a decade.
One reason the Senate has been so productive is because the Republican majority has been committed to ensuring that all Senators, whatever their party, have the opportunity to have their voices heard. Under Democratic leadership, not only Republicans but many rank-and-file Democrats were shut out of the legislative process in the Senate. As an example of that, the Democratic leadership allowed just 15 amendment rollcall votes in all of 2014--an entire year. That is barely more than one amendment
vote per month here in the Senate.
Republicans, by contrast, had allowed 15 amendment rollcall votes by the time we had been in charge here for merely 3 weeks. In all, Republicans have allowed more than 136 amendment rollcall votes so far in 2015. That is not only more amendment rollcall votes than in all of last year, but it is more amendment rollcall votes than the Senate took in 2013 and 2014 combined. We still have 6 months to go in 2015. [Page: S4819]
NUCLEAR AGREEMENT WITH IRAN
Mr. President, one of the most important bipartisan bills the Senate has passed this year is the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. This legislation, which was signed into law in May by the President, ensures that the American people, through their representatives in Congress, will have a voice in any final agreement with Iran. Specifically, the law requires the President to submit any agreement with Iran to Congress for review and prevents him from waiving sanctions on Iran until the congressional
review period is complete.
The bill also requires the President to evaluate Iran's compliance every 90 days. I am particularly glad that this legislation is in place because the negotiation process so far has given cause for deep concern. The primary purpose of any deal with Iran is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But the interim agreement the President unveiled in April casts serious doubt on the administration's determination to achieve that goal. The framework does not shut down a single nuclear facility
in Iran. It does not destroy any single centrifuge in Iran. It does not stop research and development on Iran's centrifuges. It allows Iran to keep a substantial part of its existing stockpile of enriched uranium.
It is not surprising that Members of both parties are concerned about this agreement. Again and again during the process, Secretary Kerry and the President have seemed to forget that the goal of negotiations is not a deal for its own sake but a deal that will actually stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Administration negotiators have repeatedly sacrificed American priorities for the sake of getting an agreement.
In the process, they have created a very real risk that the deal that finally emerges will be too weak to achieve its goal. A Washington Post editorial this week declared that any agreement with Iran that emerges from the current talks ``will be, at best, an unsatisfying and risky compromise.'' That is from the Washington Post. The editorial board continues by saying:
Iran's emergence as a threshold nuclear power, with the ability to produce a weapon quickly, will not be prevented; it will be postponed by 10 to 15 years. In exchange, Tehran will reap hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief it can use to revive its economy and fund the wars it is waging around the Middle East.
Again, that is a quote from the editorial in the Washington Post from yesterday. When Iran recently failed to comply with the provision of the interim nuclear agreement currently in place, the Obama administration, in the words of the Post editorial, ``chose to quietly accept it'' and even ``rush to Iran's defense.''
Again that is the quote from the Washington Post editorial. This is an example of what the Post aptly describes as ``a White House proclivity to respond to questions about Iran's performance by attacking those who raise them.''
Well that is a deeply troubling response on the part of the White House, and it raises doubts about the President's commitment to achieving an agreement that will shut down Iran's nuclear program. The stakes could not be higher on this agreement. At issue is whether a tyrannical, oppressive regime that backs terrorists, has killed American soldiers, and has announced its intention of wiping Israel off the map will get access to the most apocalyptic weapons known to man.
Even as negotiations continue, Iran continues to advance its nuclear program. If Iran continues its research and development into more advanced centrifuges, the breakout period--the time needed to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb--could be weeks--weeks instead of months or years. If we fail to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, we will not only be facing a nuclear-armed Iran; we will be facing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. That is what is at stake. Every Member
of Congress obviously would like to see the President successfully conclude a deal to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But the President needs to remember that a deal is only acceptable if it achieves that goal. We have heard the President say that he will walk away from a bad deal. But each time we reach a deadline, that deadline is extended.
As negotiations continue, it is essential that negotiators push for a strong final deal that includes rigorous inspection of Iranian sites and full disclosure of all Iranian weapons research to date. If the administration cannot secure a sufficiently strong deal, then it should step back from the negotiation table and reimpose the sanctions that were so successful in driving Iran to the table in the first place. No deal is better than a bad deal that will strengthen Iran's position in the Middle
East and pave the way for the development of a nuclear weapon.
For a deal to be acceptable to the American people, it must be verifiable, it must be enforceable, and it must be accountable. It also needs to promote stability and security in the Middle East and around the world. Any deal that does not reach that threshold is a bad deal. I hope the President will listen to the American people and reject any agreement that falls short of that goal.
I yield the floor.
Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, today I am offering an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act that would allow $2,100 Federal scholarships to follow 11 million low-income children to any public or private accredited school of their parents' choice. This is a real answer to inequality in America, giving more children more opportunity to attend a better school.
The Scholarships for Kids Act will cost $24 billion a year, paid for by redirecting 41 percent of the dollars now directly spent on Federal K-through-12 education programs. Often those dollars are diverted to wealthier schools. Scholarships for Kids would benefit only children of families that fit the Federal definition of poverty, which is about one-fifth of all school children--about 11 million a year.
Allowing Federal dollars to follow students has been a successful strategy in American education for over 70 years. Last year, $31 billion in Federal Pell grants, and $100 billion in loans followed students to public and private colleges. Since the GI bill began in 1944, these vouchers have helped create a marketplace of 6,000 autonomous higher education institutions, the best system of higher education in the world.
Our elementary and secondary education system is not performing as if it were the best in the world.
U.S. 15-year-olds rank 28th in science and 36th in math. I believe one reason for this is that while more than 93 percent of Federal dollars spent for a higher education follows students to colleges of their choice, Federal dollars do not automatically follow K-through-12th-grade students to schools of their choice. Instead, that money is sent directly to schools. Local government monopolies run most schools and tell most students which schools to attend. There is little choice and no K-through-12
marketplace as there is in higher education.
Former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin often wrote that American creativity is flourished during ``fertile verges,'' times when citizens became more self-aware and creative.
In his book ``Breakout,'' Newt Gingrich argues that society is on the edge of such an era and cites computer handbook writer Tim O'Reilly's suggestion for how the Internet could transform government. ``The best way for government to operate,'' Mr. O'Reilly says, ``is to figure out what kinds of things are enablers of society and make investments in those things. The same way that Apple figured out, `if we turn the iPhone into a platform, outside developers would bring hundreds of thousands of
applications to the table.' ''
Already, 19 States have begun a variety of innovative programs supporting private school choice. Private organizations supplement those efforts. Allowing $2,100 Federal scholarships to follow 11 million children would enable other school choice innovations in the same way developers rushed to provide applications for the iPhone platform. [Page: S4820]
Senator Tim Scott, the Presiding Officer today, has proposed the CHOICE Act, allowing $11 billion other Federal dollars--dollars the Federal Government now spends through the program for children with disabilities--to follow those 6 million children to the schools their parents believe provide the best services. A student who is both low income and has a disability could benefit under both of the programs, especially when taken together with Senator Scott's proposal, Scholarships
for Kids constitutes the most ambitious proposal ever to use existing Federal dollars to enable States to expand school choice.
Under Scholarships for Kids, States would still govern pupil assignment, deciding, for example, whether parents could choose private schools. Schools chosen would have to be accredited. Federal civil rights rules would apply. The proposal does not affect the school lunch program. So Congress can assess the effectiveness of this new tool for innovation, there is an independent evaluation after 5 years.
In the late 1960s, Ted Sizer, then Harvard University's education dean, suggested a $5,000 scholarship in his Poor Children's Bill of Rights. That is what he called it. In 1992, when I was the U.S. Education Secretary, President George H.W. Bush proposed a GI Bill for Kids, a half-billion-dollar Federal pilot program for States creating school choice opportunities. Yet despite its success in higher education, ``voucher'' remains a bad word among most of the K-through-12 education establishment,
and the idea hasn't spread rapidly.
Equal opportunity in America should mean that everyone has the same starting line. There would be no better way to help children move up from the back of the line than by allowing States to use Federal dollars to create 11 million new opportunities to choose a better school.
I thank the Presiding Officer, and I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.