Sen. Tom Harkin

  • May 17, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Sen. Harkin is the Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

    This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which I chair, held a hearing on the full slate of five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): Mark Gaston Pearce, Richard F. Griffin, Jr., Sharon Block, Harry I. Johnson III, and Philip Andrew Miscimarra. These are vitally important nominations because the enforcement of our labor laws is essential to the growth of a strong middle class and to the smooth functioning of businesses large and small across the country. Without Congressional action, the NLRB will go dark in August -- which could have a truly troubling impact on our economy.

    Workers and employers alike rely on the fact that the Board will enforce our labor laws, and enforce contracts between labor and management.  For the thousands of American workers fired every year for trying to organize a union in their workplace, an NLRB out of commission means that those workers would have to wait years before they could get their job back or any back pay for lost wages. From the business perspective, the NLRB also ensures that unions do not step outside the law in their interactions with workers or employers. Perhaps that is why a Senior Counsel to the National Federal of Independent Businesses (NFIB) said that “to have the Board totally shut down would be a travesty.”

    Despite this agreement on the importance of the Board’s operations, in recent years, Congressional Republicans have waged unprecedented attacks on the NLRB.  While it appears that their real goal might be to repeal the National Labor Relations Act altogether, because they know that an attempt to repeal the law directly would surely fail, they have worked instead to dismantle the Board by attempting to hold up nominees or strip its funding. In the last Congress, House Republicans launched a series of efforts to shutter the NLRB, including voting to defund the Board entirely, and proposing a budget to force the Board to furlough all of its employees for most of 2011. Republicans have also proposed bills to abolish the NLRB and bills to limit its ability to enforce decisions and promulgate regulations.

    Of course, these efforts to undermine the Board are all part of a larger Republican assault on the unions and on collective bargaining in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  These attacks don’t just hurt unions -- they undermine the very existence of the American middle class.

  • April 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Last year, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the Senate floor to bemoan his Republican colleagues’ ongoing use of the filibuster to block or greatly delay the president’s nominations to executive branch agencies, the federal bench, and to defeat consideration of legislation.

    Reid then praised some of the senators who have been pushing for filibuster reform, such as Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The plan, in part, would force senators to work harder to sustain a filibuster. Merkley calls it a “talking filibuster.” In a press release, Merkley explains how his proposed changes would blunt the use of the filibuster. (Sen. Merkley is one of the featured speakers at the 2013 ACS National Convention in June.)

    As it stands now Republicans have crafted a new norm of requiring a supermajority to end debate and allow up-or-down votes on legislation and nominations. The compromise gun bill was killed because of this new norm, though some wobbly pundits suggested the president was at fault. Indeed the late Bob Edgar blasted the use of the filibuster as essentially shutting the place down and his group lodged a lawsuit to force reform of the procedural tool.

    At the start of the 113th Congress, Merkley and other senators urged a simple majority vote to change the Senate’s rules on the filibuster. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), said “a revolution has occurred in the Senate in recent years. Never before was it accepted that a 60 vote threshold was required for everything. This did not occur through Constitutional Amendment or through a great public debate. Rather, because of the abuse of the filibuster, the minority party – the party the American people did not want to govern – has assumed for itself absolute and virtually unchecked veto power over all legislation, any executive branch nominee, no matter how insignificant the position, and over all judges, no matter how uncontroversial.” 

  • February 19, 2013
    Guest Post

    by U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Pratt, Southern District of Iowa


    In late January, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced he would retire when this session of Congress ends in December, 2014. I have known Tom Harkin since we worked together as young lawyers at the Polk County (Des Moines, Iowa) Legal Aid Society. The first paragraph of any article about Harkin must mention the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark civil rights legislation outlawing discrimination against those with disabilities passed in the congress of 1989-90. This is as it should be because that law has literally changed the face of America but there is so much more, however, that most people do not know about his work.

    While at Polk County legal aid as a young lawyer he lobbied the Iowa legislature to pass the Uniform Consumer Credit Code, lobbied to eliminate the sovereign immunity for tort liability for governments, worked against those who wanted to raise the interest rates for consumers and challenged in the Iowa Supreme Court a loitering ordinance that was used indiscriminately against the poor.

    Although Iowa is now a politically competitive state, it was not always so.  From the time of the Civil War, just as southern states were solidly Democratic, Iowa was solidly Republican.  It was once common wisdom that “Iowa would go Democratic when hell went Methodist.” Remarkably   Harkin, during his political career has defeated five incumbent members of Congress, and is the only Democrat in Iowa’s history to be re-elected to the U.S. Senate. Along the way he has helped Iowa’s state Democratic Party to be one of the most progressive and best organized in the country. Harkin’s political legacy in Iowa is secure because of that and also because so many of his former staff and campaign people are prominent in today’s progressive movement.         

  • January 15, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As Salon’s Steve Kornacki persuasively argues, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is a friend of the National Rifle Association, likely helping to kill any meaningful gun control legislation.

    Kornacki notes that Reid recently told Nevada reporters that he is not supporting any of the reforms expected to be put forth by the administration (The New York Times reports that Vice President Joe Biden has identified 19 executive orders the president could issue to advance gun safety) and essentially “pronounced the assault weapons ban dead ….”

    Kornacki continues:

    Not only is there steep resistance in the Republican-controlled House, but the Senate also includes a number of Democrats like Reid from pro-gun states who would rather not go on record voting for a new ban.

    In stating that he won’t consider legislation that doesn’t stand a chance in the House, Reid appears to be giving pro-gun Senate Democrats an opportunity to duck the question.

    Beyond providing cover to “pro-gun Senate Democrats,” Reid now appears to be wavering on filibuster reform. Last year, Reid took to the Senate floor to bemoan his lack of support for filibuster reform and said he favored reform measures advocated by several Democratic senators.

  • June 14, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Ian S. Thompson, Washington Legislative Office & Dena Sher, Washington Legislative Office. This analysis is cross-posted at the ACLU blog Washington Markup.


    On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held an important hearing on workplace discrimination experienced by those who are or perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). The hearing addressed the need for federal legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), to create uniform protections for LGBT people in the workplace.   The sad reality remains that it is legal to fire or refuse to hire workers based on sexual orientation in 29 states and gender identity in 34 states.

    The ACLU has long championed ENDA: American workers – who stand side-by-side in the workplace and contribute with equal measure in their jobs – should be able to stand on equal footing under the law. While our support for this essential legislation remains unchanged, we voiced concerns about two provisions. Things have changed in the nearly two decades since ENDA was first introduced and we believe the bill should be updated to reflect this reality.