Senate Chairs

Published — January 5, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Tom Harkin — Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

Passionate defender of health care reform and spending “directed” by Congress


Veteran Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in 2009 following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. Harkin became an instrumental force in crafting the massive health care reform legislation that passed last year and he will undoubtedly be a key player in overseeing how the legislation is implemented, or altered, in the coming months.

Harkin has made clear he will vigorously support the measure, even as Republicans threaten to repeal or not fund the law after they took control of the House. “Republicans are seriously misreading this election if they claim a mandate to drag us back to the days of out-of-control health care spending and insurance company abuses and discrimination,” he said. “Americans will not stand for it, and neither will I.”

Harkin is also chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, and is thus powerfully positioned to influence not just health care, but education, employment and retirement policies as well.

First elected to the Senate in 1984 (following 10 years in the U.S. House), Harkin previously chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee, a perch from which he championed subsidies for farmers, nutrition programs, and corn-based ethanol. Harkin authored the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which improved wheelchair accessibility and provided workplace accommodations for disabled Americans. He is an advocate of expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, advancing research in paralysis, and preventing childhood obesity.

Harkin has also funneled millions to cancer-related research, and unashamedly acknowledges his support of “congressionally directed spending” in such endeavors. From 2008 to 2010, Harkin secured about $1.2 billion in earmarked projects.

Several of Harkin’s former aides left to become lobbyists, most prominently former chief of staff Peter Reinecke, who started his own firm, Reinecke Strategic Solutions. According to the Center’s health care lobbying database, Reinecke reported lobbying on the health care bill in 2009, representing clients including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and AARP. In 2009, former legislative director Edward Long joined Van Scoyoc Associates, which the Center found to be one of the top health care lobbying firms. Long lobbies for the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, the National Association of Community Health Centers, the Skin Cancer Foundation, and several hospitals.

The office of Sen. Harkin did not respond to a request for comment.

Top PAC Contributors

  • American Association for Justice, formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America — at least $32,500
  • Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, a labor union — at least $30,000
  • American Optometric Association, a trade association representing doctors of optometry — at least $27,000
  • National Community Action Foundation, an anti-poverty advocacy group — at least $26,000
  • American Chiropractic Association, a trade association for doctors of chiropractic — at least $25,500
  • American Federation of Teachers, a nearly 1.5 million-member labor union representing teachers and education employees — at least $25,000
  • Political action committees contributed a total of more than $2.6 million to Harkin’s campaign and to his leadership PACs

Revolving Door

  • Peter Reinecke, former chief of staff, is principal of Reinecke Strategic Solutions, which represents AARP, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the National Community Pharmacists Association
  • Edward Long, former legislative director to Harkin, lobbies for Van Scoyoc Associates, representing health care interests
  • Menda Fife, former legislative correspondent, lobbies at FifeStrategies LLC for clients including Honeywell International, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), and GE Aviation
  • Mary Langowski, former senior policy advisor to Harkin, is a senior advisor at DLA Piper. Clients include venture capital firm Lemhi Ventures and healthcare company Pharos Innovations
  • Dale W. Leibach, former press secretary for Harkin, is a founding partner of Prism Public Affairs, which lobbied for food production company Kalsec until 2008
  • Marsha Simon, former minority staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Heatlh, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, now president of Simon & Company, who currently represents Magellan Health Services, Roche Diagnostics, and LogistiCare, the leading Medicaid transportation provider
  • Chani Wiggins, former legislative aide, now serves as principal of the Joseph Group, a government relations firm specializing in telecom, energy and homeland security. Clients include Comcast, Sprint Nextel, and the National Cable Telecommunications Association
  • Michael P. Woody, former legislative assistant, is now a partner at the East End Group, lobbying for clients including Amgen, AstraZeneca and the Biotechnology Industry Organization


  • Harkin secured about $1.2 billion in earmarks from 2008 through 2010, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
  • In 2010, he secured about $13 million for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Inc., which produces accessible reading material for people with vision and learning disabilities
  • He also obtained about $5.6 million for aviation electronics company Rockwell Collins, $4 million for Advanced Analytical Technologies for a portable rapid bacterial warfare detection unit, and $3.6 million to BioProtection Systems for anti-viral vaccine development

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