On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) as Chair of the influential Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). In a statement, Harkin said of his succession:
Today I am honored to accept the chairmanship of the Senate HELP Committee. To serve in this capacity is to carry on the legacy of Senator Ted Kennedy, who dedicated his life to ensuring that our economy works for all Americans, guaranteeing every child the opportunity to pursue a quality education and, of course, the cause of his life: access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. In this last endeavor, I expect to work closely with Senator Dodd, who has guided the HELP Committee so capably in reporting The Affordable Health Choice Act, and who will continue to play a leading role as health care legislation moves to the Senate floor.
Harkin is generally viewed as a close friend of Organized Labor. In addition to favoring healthcare reform, Harkin is a chief Senate sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) (S. 560, H.R. 1470), and has been vocal in his continuing support for this measure and intent to bring it directly to the Senate floor. Harkin has been instrumental in pushing for a so-called “compromise” bill in an effort to woo back the support of Democratic Senators whose enthusiasm for the legislation has waned in recent months.
Harkin is also largely considered employee-friendly. In response to Harkin’s new leadership position, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said in a statement: “Tom is a longtime friend and I can attest to his strong commitment to improve our nation’s schools, workplaces, and the quality of life for all working families." Earlier this year, Harkin introduced the Fair Pay Act (S. 904, H.R. 2151), a bill that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by introducing the concept of equal pay for comparable – not equal – work.
Since legislation vital to Organized Labor – bills dealing with healthcare, labor, and pension issues must go through the HELP Committee to reach the Senate floor – the appointment increases the influence Harkin has with the Union movement, and in turn may well aid getting a compromise on EFCA through as well.