Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Leading disability advocate leaves Senate

December 16, 2014 in Advocacy & Access, Community News

 

 

The Hill
December 12, 2014
By Ramsey Cox

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who authored the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), bid farewell to the Senate after 30 years of service.

Harkin said government is about “giving hope to the hopeless.”

“I believe when I make it to the top, one of our government’s prime responsibilities is to leave the ladder down for others to follow,” Harkin said on the Senate floor Friday. “There needs to be rungs in that ladder, and that’s what government is for.

Harkin said no matter how hard some people tried, they still weren’t able to make it up that ladder, so Congress “built them a ramp” called the ADA.

The chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has been the leading advocate in the Senate for people with disabilities, especially since Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) passed away.

“His legacy is secure,” ranking member Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said. “It will be a long time until there is a greater champion for Americans with disabilities.”

The senator used the sign language symbol for “I love you” to describe how he felt about the Senate. He also said he wanted to leave the Senate by teaching everyone the sign for “America.” Harkin’s brother is deaf.

“Put your fingers together like that and move it in circles in front of your body. That’s it pages, you’ve got it,” Harkin said. “This is the sign for America.”

Harkin announced his retirement nearly two years ago. Since then, he pushed the Senate to vote on an increase in the federal minimum wage, student loan reforms and the authorization of a U.N. disability treaty. Republicans blocked those efforts. He said Congress should still work on these issues, in addition to increasing employment for people with disabilities, expanding Social Security and creating a public exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.