Iowa Senator Tom Harkin announced on Friday that he would not seek a sixth term in the upper chamber.
Harkin has long been a solid progressive in Congress, whose accomplishments and vigilance in defending core, liberal principles are worthy of high praise.
He ran for the House in 1972, losing to Republican William Sherle. Two years later, Harkin won the rematch. Sherle’s legacy? He put enormous effort into cutting the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts – a typical conservative resume builder.
Harkin is in the mold of such populists as Fred Harris, Paul Wellstone and Jim Hightower: strong supporters of labor, agriculture and social justice. Harkin worked to strengthen child labor laws and introduced the Americans With Disabilities Act. He has remained true to Roe v. Wade and supported the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision validating marriage equality.
And as recently as last month, Harkin stood in the well of the Senate, fending off Republican attempts to weaken Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, even taking a swipe at the administration’s short-lived embrace of Chained CPI:
“As a senior, you’ve found that your budget’s pretty tight. So instead of buying beef for dinner, you buy chicken. So you reduce your costs a little. Chained CPI looks at that and says okay, since your costs have come down, we’ll reduce your COLA. Your COLA is reduced and your budget’s tighter, so you go to beans. Chained CPI says oh you’re eating beans, that means your costs are down, we’ll reduce your COLA even further. Pretty soon you’re drinking warm water for soup. That’s what Chained CPI does to an elderly person.”
On Saturday, President Obama said of the man: “During his tenure, he has fought passionately to improve quality of life for Americans with disabilities and their families, to reform our education system and ensure that every American has access to affordable health care. Senator Harkin will be missed.”
Before the President says goodbye, it would be wise for him, and us, to study Senator Harkin’s Rebuild America Act. It’s a comprehensive blueprint for kicking our economy into gear the progressive way. That is by fashioning a 21st Century infrastructure, tackling trade reform, and ensuring the kind of fair wages that will grow a manufacturing-based middle class.
And, last week, it would have been wise for Majority Leader Harry Reid to heed Harkin’s call to end the silent filibuster.
Of course, Tom has two years left in the Senate, and I have no doubt his passion and purpose will move us in the direction of a brighter future.
If only more people would follow.