Senator Tom Harkin is now the chairman of a key U.S. senate committee that had been led by the late Senator Ted Kennedy.
Harkin, a Democrat, is the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “A great honor and a challenge,” Harkin said of the move this afternoon during an interview with Radio Iowa.
Harkin said he hopes to “carry on the legacy of Senator Kennedy,” especially the “cause” of Kennedy’s life: “health care for all Americans.”
“This is an opportunity lead the charge on health care, on education and on making sure that working families get a better share of the dollar and to help do something to strengthen the pensions and retirement systems in this country,” Harkin said, “all issues I care very deeply about and affect every Iowan and every American, so I look forward to working on those issues.”
Harkin led the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in writing the wellness and prevention components of the health care reform bill which cleared the panel earlier this summer.
“I believe that there is a silent majority of Americans there — and I detected that in Iowa when I was out there in August — a silent majority out there that knows we cannot continue on like we are with our health system and they recognize it has to be changed,” Harkin said. “And we are listening to them and we have a bill that we passed here in our committee. We’ll be bringing that out here on the (senate) floor and hopefully we’ll still have a bill for President Obama to sign before we go home for Christmas.”
Earlier this year The Hill — a Washington, D.C. publication — surveyed members of the U.S. Senate and Republican senators ranked Harkin as the fourth most bipartisan senator.
“I like working things out and I think we can get this health care thing worked out that will move us in the right direction as a country,” Harkin said. “I really do.”
Harkin is giving up his role as chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, as senators may only lead one committee. Harkin was appointed to the House Ag Committee when he was elected to congress in 1974 and then became a member of the Senate Ag Committee when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984. Harkin was chairman of the Senate Ag Committee when it wrote the 2002 and 2007 Farm Bills.
“We’ve made some big changes in agriculture, focusing more on things like conservation,” Harkin said. “…So it’s a poignant moment for me to leave the chairmanship of agriculture. It’s obviously very important to Iowa.”
Harkin, as the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will be in the unique role of being chairman of the policy committee on health and education issues at the same time he leads a senate appropriations subcommittee that writes the budgets for those areas of the federal budget.