WASHINGTON – Senate Labor Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the son of a coal miner and a determined supporter of workers and their rights, said on Jan. 26 he would not seek re-election next year.
Harkin, 73, took over the committee after the death several years ago of its late and longtime chairman, labor champion Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. As panel chairman, Harkin sponsored high-profile hearings on workers’ causes, including the Employee Free Choice Act and strengthening job safety and health laws.
Harkin’s panel, formally the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also was involved, as was he, in drafting the 2010 health care revision law. Harkin also chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that helps disburse funds for health, education and labor programs.
But the fate of health care ideas Harkin championed, with labor’s support, mirrored the fate of much of his other legislation. The Employee Free Choice Act, to help level the playing field between workers and bosses, his Rebuild America Act last year and job safety laws fell victim to business lobbying, GOP filibusters and threats, or both.
Harkin, who served for a decade in the U.S. House before winning his Senate seat in 1984, said it was time for someone younger to represent Iowa. Its senior senator, Republican Charles Grassley, in his sixth 6-year term, will turn 80 this year.
“After 40 years, I just feel it’s somebody else’s turn,” Harkin said in his hometown of Cummings, Iowa. “I don’t by any means plan to retire completely from public life at the end of this Congress. But I am going to make way for someone new in this Senate seat. I think that is right not just for me, but for Iowa, as well.”
He also said the Labor Committee priorities during his final years as chairman include “moving forward with bills to ensure all Americans are able to achieve the promise of a quality education – beginning in early childhood, continuing through elementary and high school, and culminating with higher education.”
Harkin also wants to increase employment of people with disabilities. And Harkin will push for a new pension plan, which he calls the USA Retirement Fund, “to provide Americans with a secure source of retirement income for life.”
Photo: Tom Harkin Susan Walsh/AP