By Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA)
As we begin 2011 and welcome the 112th Congress to Washington, it can be easy to focus on all the challenges we face and forget about all the important things we have accomplished in the past two years during the 111th Congress and President Obama’s first years in office. In fact, this Congress has accomplished more legislatively than any other Congress since the 1960s. I have been proud to work with others to fight for an unprecedented series of steps to restore the economy and improve the lives of Iowans in common-sense, concrete ways.
For starters, as many Iowans are all too aware, flood recovery in Eastern Iowa is still ongoing, and will be for some time, but each federal dollar that has been allocated for that effort has been put to good use. I was proud to play a lead role in securing and directing significant funds for ongoing flood recovery in addition to the bulk of dollars appropriated in 2008.
On the financial front, when the 111th Congress began, the nation was headed toward another Great Depression and to help stop this, we passed the stimulus bill, which helped preserve and create millions of jobs and prevented an economic disaster. And to prevent a future financial meltdown and to protect consumers from abusive financial products and practices, Congress enacted the most sweeping Wall Street reform bill in decades. This bill helped put our focus back where it should be - on protecting consumers, instead of vast financial institutions. The consumer protections included in the bill mean that Iowans can have more confidence in their financial dealings. There is still much more to be done to turn the economy around, but without these steps our financial situation would be far worse than it is today.
Later, as the recession racked our state budget, Iowa’s public schools faced the prospect of massive layoffs, which would have meant larger class sizes and a great risk to the state of our kids’ education. The fight to pass the Keep Our Educators Working Act was sometimes a lonely one, but in the end the bill delivered $96 million to Iowa and helped keep thousands of teachers in the classroom.
We also succeeded in enacting a health reform law that increases access to affordable, quality care. Because of the bill, more Iowans can see a doctor than could before and children cannot be denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition. In addition, young adults can stay on their parents insurance until they are 26, and crucial preventive services such as mammograms and colonoscopies are now provided free of any copay or deductible. The health reform bill is an important step that finally set us on the path to remaking America as a wellness society – one that focuses on keeping people well instead of patching them up after they get sick.
And I have been proud to be at the center of two critical efforts to improve food policy in this country. Our long-standing effort to make our food safer and healthier, came to fruition with the passing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the most significant child nutrition reform bill in decades, as well as the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which updates and strengthens our nation’s outdated food safety laws for the first time in nearly a century.
The list of accomplishments over the past two years also includes the Children’s Health Insurance Program, funding for our troops, housing loan modification, the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, supporting national service programs, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a small business lending fund, student loan reform, tobacco regulations and so many more.
Overall, we made great progress towards restoring the economy and improving the lives of Iowans in very real ways. I am proud of what we accomplished and look forward to working in the 112th Congress with members on both sides of the aisle to do what is best for Iowa, working families and our nation as a whole.