Broader powers would be granted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under a bill that passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who chairs the committee which regulates the F.D.A., says the goals are: safer foods and safer medicines.

Harkin has shepherded the far-reaching measure for a full year and is gratified to see it pass with near-unanimous, bipartisan support. “What the consumers are going to see, not right now but in the near term, more generics coming onto the market sooner,” Harkin says.

“That will help decrease the price of drugs. It’s also going to help save the government money because the government buys a lot of those drugs through Medicare and Medicaid.”

Harkin, a Democrat, is chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He says the bill should give Americans a higher level of assurance that their prescription drugs are safe. “Because we put in this bill a means and the authority for FDA to do more inspections of foreign sources of our drugs,” Harkin says, adding, 80% of the material for all of the drugs that are manufactured in the U.S. come from other nations.

The measure passed the Senate on a vote of 96-to-1. Harkin was asked if that sort of cooperation between the two major parties might carry over onto other legislation. “I sure hope so,” Harkin says. “I hope, for example, the Republicans will come to the table and negotiate with us on keeping the student loan rates at 3.4% for the next year, rather than doubling to 6.8% on July the 1st.”

Harkin is sponsoring a bill that would freeze the college student loan interest rates, impacting about seven-million college graduates, including 255,000 Iowans. Harkin says the cost of maintaining the interest rate would be offset by “closing a tax loophole that benefits certain high-income professional service providers.”

Republicans say that’s the equivalent of a new tax and they oppose it.