I always get a kick out of people who wear shirts and ties and sit behind desks all their lives telling hard working Americans: Yeah, you don’t have to retire at 65 you can go to 70.

How about the woman who stands on her feet behind a counter for 40 years? Try that sometime. How about that guy out there stringing those lines out there in the middle of the winter time and stuff like that? And how about the construction person that’s out there on the job?

There are a lot of people that work in packing houses all day long. Think about doing that for 40 years. Now they want them to work even longer? You know, look, not everyone has cushy jobs. Not everyone sits behind a desk with air conditioning and stuff.

—  Tom Harkin (D-IA) shares his thoughts on Republicans who want to raise the retirement age
Dem Senators: We're Doing It Wrong, Let's Expand Social Security

In a town consumed by how quickly and how deeply to cut Social Security, a handful of Democratic senators have a different idea: expand it.Their pitch is to grow Social Security benefits by attaching it to a new formula, known as CPI-E (Consumer Price Index for the Elderly), which is based on the theory that seniors face higher-than-average price increases, such as on health care and housing. It would be paid for by phasing out the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax, which is currently $113,700. […] Progressive activists are touting the bill, eager to shift the terms of the debate from how much to cut retirement benefits to ways to increase them. 

yes, please, let’s change the debate!

this is being led by tom harkin, who’s done a lot for disability rights.


House and Senate leaders have agreed to cut funding for the nation’s largest source of grants for college students to pay student loan contractors, according to legislation that would fund the federal government through next year and avert a shutdown.

Money appropriated for the Pell grant program this year would fall $303 million, or 1.3 percent, to $22.5 billion, according to a proposal first introduced over the summer by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Most of those funds would instead be used to pay private contractors that collect borrowers’ monthly student loan payments. Harkin has defended the move as necessary.

The provision, which faced a flurry of criticism after it was revealed in a Huffington Post article published Saturday, was expected. Lawmakers are likely to pass the more than $1 trillion spending bill in the coming days. The government’s spending authority expires Thursday.

The Pell program has a budget surplus that is forecast to turn into a deficit in two years. Cuts to the program would likely lead college students to increase the amount they borrow, further driving up the nation’s $1.3 trillion stack of unpaid student loan bills.

Meant for low-income students, three of every four Pell recipients during the 2012-13 award year had household incomes of $30,000 or less, according to the Department of Education. Nearly 8.9 million students are forecast to receive on average $3,826 from the program this fiscal year, White House budget documents show.

The Department of Education’s student loan servicers – companies that counsel borrowers, set them up with repayment plans and collect their monthly checks – are set to reap the rewards from lawmakers’ cuts to Pell. They’ll get up to $721.7 million, an $8 million cut from last year, but a nearly $44 million increase compared with 2013.


this is so painful to read

Sen. Tom Harkin hula-hoops on top of a giant Chutes and Ladders game board on the East Front of the Capitol during the National Women’s Law Center and Mom’s Rising event calling for pre-K education for all on Wednesday. Chutes and Ladders was chosen as the ladders represent opportunities, and the chutes represent challenges that families face finding affordable quality pre-K and childcare.

(Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Iowa Senator introduces bill to revitalize middle class, strengthen Social Security

Today’s introduction of  the “Rebuild America Act” by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin would do more to help the American economy and revitalize the middle class than any bill currently before Congress.


For Social Security beneficiaries, the “Rebuild America Act” would increase benefits by about $60/month for the average beneficiary – a boon for seniors, disabled workers and survivors living on fixed incomes. It would also change the way the Social Security Administration calculates benefits from the current CPI-W calculation to the CPI-E, which more accurately reflects inflationary cost increases faced by seniors.

To pay for these changes, and to ensure Social Security is solvent and soundly-financed well into the future, Senator Harkin proposes scrapping the cap – ensuring all Americans pay into Social Security at the same tax rate. That means high earners – who currently pay a much lower tax rate into Social Security than middle class earners – would pay the same rate of 6.2%.

Watch on

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa): “we need some of you probably getting arrested for doing things you shouldn’t be doing.”

Every dollar that wealthy taxpayers do not pay under this deal, we will eventually ask Americans of modest means to forgo in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits. It is shortsighted to look at these issues in isolation from one another, especially when Congressional Republicans have been crystal clear that they intend to seek spending cuts to programs like Social Security just two months from now, using the debt limit as leverage.

I am all for compromise, but a compromise that sets a new tax threshold for the wealthiest Americans while neglecting the very backbone of our country – the middle class – is a compromise I simply cannot support. This is the wrong direction for Iowa and our country, and at a time when our fragile economy cannot sustain further damage.

—  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), on why he voted “no” on the “fiscal cliff” deal.

“I do not agree with calling secular people ‘nonbelievers’. I have lots of friends who hold on to secular view points and they are passionate believers; Passionate believers in the first amendment. They believe in justice. They believe in living moral and ethical lives. They believe in tolerance and nondiscrimination. So please, don’t refer to yourselves as ‘nonbelievers.” – Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) at the Secular Coalition for America’s recent  Secular Summit & Lobby Day.

Chained CPI would take food out of seniors’ mouths.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin heard from Iowa seniors about their opposition to chained CPI at a townhall event yesterday. For those who aren’t familiar, the report explains chained CPI as “a less generous way of calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases that assumes seniors will change their buying habits as certain items become more expensive.” The problem, of course, is that Social Security benefits are hardly generous for many seniors and the assumption discounts the notion that they’re already buying the cheapest items they can find.

“Compared with the current model, advocacy group Social Security Works has said that a person who began drawing Social Security at the age of 62 would be receiving 7.32 percent less in benefits per year by the age of 88 under chained CPI,” the report goes on.

Pres. Obama has signalled that he would be open to chained CPI, despite the fact that much of the left is opposed to the idea. Obama originally conceived of it as part of a “grand bargain” with Republicans. He’s since stopped talking about it, but the fact that he hasn’t ruled it out in the future is extremely disturbing.

“I’m sorry to say that the president of my own party has advocated this and he’s wrong,” Harkin told seniors at the town hall. “I’m so tired of people saying we’ve got to cut Social Security. I thought, we got to come back and say something, no, you’ve got to increase Social Security.”

And then we get the instructive moment:

Many attendees also spoke out against the plan, but one woman, Sheryl Tenicat, became emotional as she begged for Social Security not to be cut.

“I have $624 a month, that’s what I’m living on,” Tenicat explained. “Ninety-nine [dollars] of that goes to Medicare Part D and B. After I get my check, in two weeks, it’s gone. I have nothing. I live with what I eat here. And I just do not want my cost of living cut because I’ve paid in since I was 16 to the government. I’m looking for work in my retirement years so that I can exist. I do own my house, but I don’t know how long that will go because I have property taxes to pay.”

Tenicat added that her car had broken down and she now had to take the bus to the retirement center to receive her free meals.

“There is no way for me to eat less,” she said.

There is no more money in many seniors’ budgets to cut. They can’t decrease spending as costs rise, because they’re already paying rock bottom now.

The fact is that cutting Social Security is a scam to avoid rasing taxes on those that can afford it. Social Security adds nothing to the deficit, so cutting benefits to pay down deficits is actually a transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top. If the president agrees to chained CPI, it’ll be a deep betrayal of Democratic values and it will literally put people like Sheryl Tenicat out on the street – the very situation that Social Security was designed to prevent.

To strengthen one leg of the ‘three-legged stool’ of retirement security, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today introduced a measure to improve the most efficient, most effective retirement program we have - Social Security. Harkin’s bill will strengthen Social Security benefits, ensure the program is available for future generations, and help to address the retirement crisis in this country.
—  via Senator Tom Harkin.

Former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin taught delegates at the Democratic National Convention the sign for America in sign language as a nod to the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I do not have extremely strong political views & often don’t share them here but it’s cool that ASL got an honorable mention this weekend :) Always nice to see people take interest in the language that has become an integral part of my life, no matter what political views they have. We have progressed so much in the past 26 years!
Congress Takes Bipartisan Action To Expand Preschool And Childcare

On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) will introduce legislation to expand preschool and high-quality childcare across the country. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and at least seven other Senate and House members will also support the bill.

According to a draft, the bill would expand early childhood education from birth to age five over a decade. It would give states funding to expand preschool to all four-year-olds in low-income families who earn below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line, or about $47,000 for a family of four, based on the number of children that would be served. States would also have to qualify by meeting quality standards and by already providing state-funded Kindergarten. The states would start out having to match 10 percent of the federal money and then increase that match to an equal share by the 10th year, although the match would be reduced for those that serve half or more of their eligible four-year-olds. If a state achieves universal access to preschool for four-year-olds, it could then start working on serving three-year-olds so long as that access remains for the older children.

The bill doesn’t just address preschool, but also high-quality childcare for infants and young children. States could set aside 15 percent of the money for high-quality education and care for infants and toddlers. It would authorize a new partnership between Early Head Start and those who offer childcare to improve the quality of the care while changing the block grant that supports childcare so that it can raise the quality and ease eligibility. The Department of Health and Human Services would also convert Head Start programs that currently serve low-income four-year-olds into programs to serve three-year-olds and younger.

The draft would propose $1.3 billion in funding next year for the program, which would increase to $8.7 billion next year.

The bill comes after President Obama proposed a universal preschool program in his State of the Union address this year. He later released a budget that included $75 billion in new funding over the next decade to enact a “preschool for all” plan that would start by partnering with states to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds with access and then incentivize them to expand to reach all other children.

Universal preschool has gotten support from Democrats and Republicans alike on the state level. Seven states, both red and blue, are working on universal preschool programs, including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Legislation has also been introduced in Indiana and South Carolina, and Michigan’s Republican governor requested an additional $65 million in his budget to expand early learning. Meanwhile, 70 percent of Americans support providing all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds with access to high-quality preschool, including 60 percent of Republicans.

Yet the United States falls far behind its peers in early childhood education. On the whole, states are spending the lowest amount per student in Pre-K in a decade. The country ranks at number 21 globally in the percentage of GDP it spends on preschool. Just 69 percent of American four-year-olds and 51 percent of three-year-olds are enrolled in early childhood programs, ranking the country at numbers 26 and 24 among its peers, respectively. Childcare costs are on the rise, with full-time center care for two children coming to more than rent in all states and putting an infant in childcare more than what the average family spends on food, yet subsidies to help cover the care are declining.

But the benefits of access to high-quality learning at a young age have been well documented. Chicago’s universal preschool program has been found to generate $11 in economic benefits for each dollar spent, and studies of other programs have found $7 in long-term savings for each dollar put in. Investing in preschool has been proven to increase social and economic mobility, increase human capital and GDP, and reduce societal and economic costs in a child’s life later on.