Education Reform: Part VII - Obama’s Go-To Guy, Senator Tom Harkin

President Barack Obama’s plan to “out-educate and out-build the rest of the world” includes spending a staggering $77.4 billion in the next fiscal year, an increase of nearly 4.5% above previous levels. This won’t be easy in this climate of necessary budget cuts. With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, Obama’s go-to legislator will have to be in the U.S. Senate where Democrats still control the agenda and can carry his water. The Senator who Obama will rely on to implement his plan is likely to be Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions.

Senator Harkin seems the ideal man for the job. In the vein of Obama, Harkin’s a liberal’s liberal who views government as the primary solution to problems:

“[Harkin] believes government should intervene to help the poor, the disabled and family farmers, and he has been relentless in pushing to fulfill his liberal vision.”  (Jessica Brady, “CQ Politics In America Profile,” CQ Roll Call, 12/29/10)

“In September 2009, he was given an even bigger platform to pursue that agenda as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.”  (Jessica Brady, “CQ Politics In America Profile,” CQ Roll Call, 12/29/10)

“[Harkin’s] signature legislative achievement remains the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, which extended broad civil rights protections to an estimated 54 million Americans with mental and physical disabilities.”  (Jessica Brady, “CQ Politics In America Profile,” CQ Roll Call, 12/29/10)

Harkin wholeheartedly supports President Obama’s agenda, voting to support Obama’s legislative preferences 97% of the time in 2009 and 95% in 2010. Harkin called his vote in favor of ObamaCare on Christmas Eve 2009, “one of the defining votes of my Senate career.”

Senator Harkin has long been known for his passion for education and advocacy. As Harkin states on his website, “education is the key to success in this country. It has the ability to transform an individual’s life and give them opportunities above and beyond the generations that came before them. Every American should have a chance at an outstanding, well-rounded education.”

During his ill-fated presidential campaign in 1992, Harkin blasted Bill Clinton for ignoring the needs of children and promised not to leave any children behind if elected president.

During The 1992 Presidential Campaign, Harkin Attacked Bill Clinton For Not Addressing The Needs Of Children When Clinton Was Governor Of Arkansas. “Along with the announcement was stapled another sheet, assembled by the Harkin campaign, purporting to describe how several advocacy groups and newspapers rated Arkansas’ record on children’s issues while Bill Clinton was governor. . . . ‘What’s happened in Arkansas is that the children are being left behind,’ Harkin told reporters.” (Cathleen Decker and Paul Richter, “5-Man, 9-Day Sprint Caps Primary Marathon In N.H.,” Los Angeles Times, 2/9/92)

As A Presidential Candidate Harkin Promised To Pay Attention To Children And Not Leave Any Child Behind. “‘It’s going to cost a lot,’ he said. ‘Just to fully fund Head Start will cost about $5 billion. But I submit you’re asking the wrong question - ask how much it would cost if we don’t,’ he said, pounding a toy stove he was using as a lectern. ‘Whatever it’s going to cost, we’re going to do it, because we’ve left these kids behind. This government under President Harkin is not going to ignore its children.’” (Peter S. Canellos, “Harkin Backs More Funds For Children,” The Boston Globe, 2/7/92)

Coupled with education, Harkin for years he has fought for the defenseless, particularly children. Remember when he was astute enough to discern that Cuban fugitive Elian Gonzalez was being “abused” by his American relatives in Florida by watching the news?

In 2000, Harkin Said That The Relatives Of Elian Gonzalez Should Have Been Charged With Child Abuse Because The Boy’s Image Appeared On Television. “The Miami relatives of young Elian Gonzalez are committing flagrant child abuse by subjecting the boy to the pressures of a high-profile custody fight, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said. ‘This has gone beyond all bounds of sanity,’ said Harkin, in a conference call with Iowa reporters Thursday. Harkin said he had kept his silence on the issue, but decided to speak up after seeing images of the youngster on television late Wednesday night. ‘It’s clear the family is flouting the law only to force a public confrontation,’ Harkin said. ‘They ought to be charged with child abuse, because that’s what it is, flagrant child abuse.’” (Mike Glover, “Harkin Sees ‘Child Abuse’ In Cuban Boy Case,” The Associated Press, 4/14/00)

Harkin Believed The Relatives Of Elian Gonzalez Were Also Abusing The Cuban Boy By Filling His Head With Ideas Of Living In America And By Keeping Him Awake At 11:00 P.M. “Harkin said he was upset by images of the youngster on television saying he didn’t want to return to Cuba. That’s clear manipulation by adults not looking out for his best interests, Harkin said. ‘Who knows what they’ve stuffed in his head?’ Harkin said. ‘There he is on the 11 O’Clock News, being paraded around on their shoulders,’ Harkin said. ‘At 11 o’clock, he ought to be in bed.’” (Mike Glover, “Harkin Sees ‘Child Abuse’ In Cuban Boy Case,” The Associated Press, 4/14/00)

Harkin was the lead Democrat in the Senate to include the federal take-over of the student loan industry as part of ObamaCare’s reconciliation with the U.S. House. Harkin has “also focused on renewing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the near future.”

As “Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and of the Appropriations panel that funds education initiatives, Senator Harkin is committed to improving the quality of education at all levels and to ensuring that every American student has access to a 21st Century education.”

Harkin’s 35-plus years of experience on Capitol Hill, coupled with his ideological simpatico with Obama, clearly makes him the go-to guy to push the President’s education agenda. But does that make him the best choice to set the legislative course for education reform? Maybe not. Perhaps Harkin, who has been a liberal fixture of Washington since before the formation of the Department of Education, really has his own best interests at heart, his campaign coffers, his next election and the interests of those who support him.

On Monday I’ll be looking at some of Harkin’s benefactors.

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