With Fifth Senate Term, The Expectations Rise

OCTOBER 27TH, 2008 | Harkin for Senate

Read the original story at The Des Moines Register.

Iowans should without hesitation cast their ballots to return Democrat Tom Harkin for his fifth term in the U.S. Senate. With that investment in seniority, however, comes heightened expectations for him to lead in shaping landmark legislation that will benefit Iowans and the nation for decades to come.

Harkin, 68, of Cumming already ranks in the top fifth of senators in seniority. He chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, a powerful role that he’s used to nurture Iowa’s biofuels industry. And he ranks third in seniority on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, putting him in position to mold a new president’s proposals to reform health care and education policy. Advertisement

His challenger is Christopher Reed, 36, of Marion, a political newcomer who beat out two better-known rivals for the Republican nomination. A Navy veteran and owner of a telephone-answering-service business, he casts himself as a fiscal and social conservative. He wants to shrink government and lower taxes, and he opposes abortion and gay marriage.

Reed is acting on his convictions in waging this race. But his knowledge of the issues rarely goes deeper than generic conservative themes. And last week during a joint TV appearance, he made a shameful attack on Harkin’s patriotism, characterizing his support for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq on a scheduled timetable as “providing aid and comfort to the enemy.”

In his latest term, Harkin presided over adoption of a new farm bill, crafting provisions to bolster biofuels development and funnel more dollars into soil conservation. Though ultimately unsuccessful, he fought the good fights against a too-costly, confusing Medicare prescription-drug plan, for human embryonic stem-cell research and for a timeline to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Democrats have counted on him as a reliable vote for party causes (Congressional Quarterly regularly rates him in the high 90s for percentage of times he’s voted with his party). He joined with Democrats to increase the minimum wage and reduce costs for student loans. Yet he also frequently linked arms across the party aisle with his fellow Iowa senator, Chuck Grassley, to steer funding to the state and secure passage of legislation tailored to Iowa’s needs. The pair guided approval of more than $25 billion in disaster relief this summer and fall, a good portion of which will flow to flood-ravaged Iowa communities.

Harkin and his staff know how to work legislative processes to benefit Iowa, such as drafting a legal change into the economic-rescue plan that could pave the way for construction of an ethanol pipeline from Iowa to the East Coast.

But Harkin also made headlines this term for ill-considered statements (in 2004 calling Vice President Dick Cheney a coward, or this spring criticizing Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s world view as too “shaped by the military”). He picked a bizarre fight last year with DreamWorks, creator of the “Shrek” movies, for allowing the ogre to appear in ads promoting sugary, high-fat snacks for kids.

And for all his solid work on a variety of fronts, arguably his most significant legislative achievement came 18 years ago, co-authoring the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. (This year, he led passage of amendments to reinforce the act.)

In his fifth term, Senator Harkin should aim high and set aside partisan sniping for statesmanship. On the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he should channel his passions for wellness and nutrition into forging legislation that provides health care for all, at long last bringing America into the company of every other industrialized nation. On that same committee, he should shepherd changes in education policy to better prepare all American students for a competitive global economy. And as Agriculture Committee chairman, he should continue his work to expand agriculture’s role in producing alternative forms of energy, thus reducing dependence on oil, while protecting soil, water and air. He has the right vision for overhauling federal farm programs: Instead of paying farmers for what they grow, pay them for how well they grow it.

These would be transformational changes in American life and government: Providing health care for all. Expanding educational opportunities for all of America’s children. Lessening the nation’s dependence on oil while better protecting the environment.

Spearheading significant progress in these areas would create a more compassionate, just and prosperous society – and be crowning achievements for any senator.

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