Harkin Replaces Kennedy as HELP Chair

September 10, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has been named chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP).

Harkin succeeds Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) who recently succumbed in his battle with cancer, according to an Associated Press news report. “I’m looking forward to carrying on Senator Kennedy’s legacy to provide better health care and make education in this country second to none,” Harkin said.

Harkin told the Associated Press that he would prefer health-care reform legislation be bipartisan, but that he would be willing to push forward without any GOP backing if necessary.

It will be up to GOP senators as to how Harkin and other Democratic leaders push a health care bill through the Senate.“It’s a question to ask Republicans,” Harkin told the news service. “Would they rather stay with the status quo or make constructive changes?”

Harkin said assuming the leadership role on the committee is both an “opportunity and a real challenge.” He will give up his job as Agriculture Committee chairman but will keep his seat on the panel, where he has served since he was first elected to the Senate in 1985, the Associated Press said.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis welcomed Harkin in a statement released by her office.

"Over his 10 years in the House of Representatives and a quarter of a century in the Senate, Senator Harkin has been a tireless advocate for working Americans and families," Solis said. "He has been on the frontlines of the most critical issues of our times relating to employment, retirement, health care and education. I appreciate everything that Senator Harkin has done in support of our nation's workers and look forward to partnering with him to ensure the soundness and enforcement of federal labor policy."

Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) headed the HELP Committee while Kennedy was in treatment, but decided to stay in his role as chair of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.