House Education and the Workforce Committee Democrats Walk Out on SKILLS Act Markup Hearing

(Updated Below)

Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee walked out of the committee vote Wedensday morning on the Republican-backed bill to revamp the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), claiming that the majority refused to work with them on developing a bipartisan bill. The Committee subsequently passed the bill, (H.R. 803), called the “Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills” (SKILLS) Act, by a vote of 23 to 0. (The final bill includes a couple of minor ammendments offered by Republicans, including one that would prohibit the use of WIA funds for lobbying and political activities—as well as “voter registration activities.”) Republican leaders have scheduled the bill for a floor vote next week.

During the hearing, before the walkout, Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) said that the bill “will never see the light of day in the Senate,” and from what I can gather, that is undoubtedly true.

But according to The Hill, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) highlighted the SKILLS Act in a speech last month as part of his “Making Life Work” agenda for the GOP, and really wanted to get this thing to the House floor as soon as possible.

In a joint statement, Tierney, Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) said that they viewed “boycotting this proceeding as our only alternative after many months of repeatedly requesting bipartisan negotiations and being rebuffed by committee Republicans,” and claimed that “[i]t would have been a dereliction of duty to continue to participate.”

Tierney, Hinojosa, and Miller sent a letter to Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and SKILLS Act author Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) on Monday, requesting that they cancel Wednesday’s markup and instead hold “member-to-member negotiations to reach a compromise.” The three Democrats said in their statement today that they received no response. And thus the boycott.

I was just sent this exclusive video clip of the hearing, including the dramatic walkout:

Actual webcast of the hearing here.

UPDATE 3/7/13: Some good reporting yesterday from Ethan Forman in the Eagle-Tribune on the concerns of people in the in the field in the Merrimack Valley/Southern New Hampshire are about the Republican bill:

Mary Sarris, executive director of the Salem-based North Shore Workforce Investment Board, said she provided input to Tierney to help craft his version of the Workforce Investment Act update.

Tierney’s bill, Sarris said, would provide opportunities for workforce investment boards to work with certain industries to train workers, such as, for example, offering a program for machinists at a community college. She said the current law does not allow the board to use federal money to provide for group training, which could be more cost-effective.

Wayne Burton, president of North Shore Community College, one of the North Shore Workforce Investment Board’s largest providers, said the Republican bill would have “major repercussions for us of the negative kind” by consolidating programs and making it uncertain where the worker training money might go. The legislation calls for business leaders to sit on workforce investment boards, eliminating community college representation.

“The funding goes to the people that need it, and it’s not hung up in the bureaucracy,” he said.