Senator Tom Harkin says reading the headlines this week, he can see why Americans think Congress is out of touch with reality. The “powers that be” in Washington are preoccupied, he says, with trying to privatize Social Security, cut healthcare and veterans’ benefits, “unleash a nuclear option in the senate” to make it easier to stop a filibuster, and he charges they’re ignoring the public’s desire for lower healthcare costs, decent jobs and relief at the gas pump. Iowa’s democratic U.S. senator says rising fuel prices are not only wreaking havoc with the family budget, they’re posing a hazard to economic recovery. With today’s average gas price at 2-25 a gallon in Iowa, Harkin says it costs nearly fifty bucks to fill a Ford Explorer, and a farmer will spend more than 500-dollars to fill up a John Deere combine. Harkin charges the president isn’t responding to fuel-price concerns, and he had some suggestions of his own. Harkin says in the short run, we should open up the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or at least quit filling it for the time being, and in the long run should pass a “robust” renewable-fuels standard to reduce our dependence on petroleum. Harkin said giving tax credits for conservation, wind energy and bio-fuels would pressure OPEC to lower its prices for crude oil. Harkin praised a national advisory board for moving to end the delay in compensating former munitions workers who say their cancer, other illness and high death rate are a result of the toxic materials they worked with in the defense industry. The workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition plant between 1949 and 1974 who have one of 22 specified kinds of cancer will be eligible for compensation of 150-thousand dollars and may have the federal government pay their medical bills. Harkin also said he’ll work again to block the nomination of Iowan Tom Dorr to a top U.S. Agriculture Department post, a move he successfully halted two years ago. Harkin says the Iowa farmer took subsidy payments he wasn’t entitled to for a farm he owns. Harkin says Dorr had to refund some 30-thousand dollars of the payments, and says Dorr’s never apologized, claiming is was just a mistake. “What kind of signal does this send?” Asked about the debate at the Iowa statehouse on reinstating a death penalty, Harkin says he knows tempers are inflamed after a recent child abduction and slaying, but noted that Iowa hasn’t had capital punishment and yet has one of the lowest capital-crime rates in the nation. The senator says that shows a death penalty isn’t connected with crime rates and wouldn’t be a deterrent.
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