Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin says he will succeed but not replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy atop the panel.
Hatch teamed up with Kennedy on many major health care initiatives over the years including the creation of the childrens health insurance program. He said that like Kennedy, Harkin will be able to broker similar deals with Members on the HELP Committee once he overcomes the growth factor of his new role. Kennedy was flamboyant, and he had the support of all the liberals in the country. He could speak for all the liberals. Now Tom can do that, too, but itll take time, Hatch said.
He is relentless and passionate in pursuit of his ideals. His biggest test will be assembling a strong coalition to join him in that pursuit but I believe hes up to the task, a Democratic leadership aide said.
But Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who also serves on HELP and who worked with Kennedy to craft the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, said its simply too soon to know how Harkin will lead. I think its premature. Obviously Toms going to have his own purpose and tempo, but nobodys going to know.
Still, Gregg said, Dont underestimate Toms ability to reach a deal.
Harkin may get his first shot to prove his negotiating power on the Employee Free Choice Act, the union-organizing bill otherwise known as card check. While he hasnt been successful yet, Harkin has been quietly working with a group of moderate Democrats to forge an agreement to advance the controversial legislation.
Were very close to having an agreement, Harkin said.
Even so, any agreement is likely to be with Democrats; Republicans are staunchly opposed to the idea. But Harkin will have opportunities to work across the aisle next year when the HELP Committee delves into education reform.
Hes new to the chairmanship, so I dont know how its going to be yet, but I look forward to working with him, HELP ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said.
Look, we all have different styles and we all have ways to get to different goals, Harkin said. Certainly Im not Sen. Kennedy. ... But were all doing our part.