US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Senator Harkin Bio Photo

Chairman Tom Harkin

Senator Tom Harkin has represented Iowa in Congress for 35 years.  First winning election to the U.S. House in 1974, he represented Iowa's Fifth Congressional District until 1984, when he challenged an incumbent Senator and won.  Iowans returned him to the Senate in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008, making Tom Harkin the first Iowa Democrat to win a fifth term in the U.S. Senate.  He currently chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  

Harkin went to Washington in 1969 to join the staff of Iowa Congressman Neal Smith.  As a staff member accompanying a congressional delegation to South Vietnam, he independently investigated and photographed the infamous "tiger cage" cells at a secret prison on Con Son Island, where prisoners - many of them students - were being tortured and kept in inhumane conditions.  Despite pressure to suppress his findings, his photos and eyewitness account were published in Life magazine.  As a result, hundreds of abused prisoners were released.

Since arriving in Congress, Harkin has championed issues that touch the lives of everyday Americans – health care, education and equal rights.  He has worked to transform America into a "wellness society" focused on disease prevention and improving public health.  He is a staunch defender of America’s working families, and has led the fight to improve education and modernize school infrastructure.  He has worked to reduce class size, give students better computer and Internet access, expand school counseling and nutrition programs and improve teacher training. 

In 1990, Harkin sponsored and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), landmark legislation that protects the civil rights of millions of Americans with physical and mental disabilities.  He learned firsthand about the challenges facing people with disabilities from his late brother, Frank, who was deaf from an early age.  Known as the "Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities," the bill has become Senator Harkin’s signature legislative achievement.  The law has literally changed the landscape of America by requiring accessible buildings and transportation, and workplace accommodations for people with disabilities.

Harkin was born in Cumming, Iowa (pop. 150) on November 19, 1939, the son of an Iowa coal miner and a Slovenian immigrant, and still lives in the house in Cumming where he was born.  He attended from Dowling High School in Des Moines, Iowa State University on a Navy ROTC scholarship and earned his law degree from Catholic University.  He and his wife Ruth have two grown daughters, Amy and Jenny, and two grandchildren.

For more information on Senator Tom Harkin, please visit his website at