Society Honors Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

On May 19th, 2010 the United States Capitol Historical Society honored the history and legislative accomplishments of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.  Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) and Ranking Member Michael B. Enzi (WY) along with many of their fellow Committee members celebrated with their staff and members of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society during a reception and dinner.

The formal dinner proceedings began with a Presentation of the Colors by the United States Capitol Police Ceremonial Unit and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.  The Honorable Ron Sarasin, President of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, welcomed the Members and staff and led the crowd in a Toast to the Committee.

Since 1816 the Committee has adopted a new name at least seven times.  Today it is aptly called the HELP Committee.  A look at the issues now before the Committee indicates why: food safety, non-discrimination in employment, pay equity, quality education, health insurance premiums — the goal of the Committee clearly is to help.

…I propose a Toast to the Committee and I ask you to stand and join me.

TO the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in recognition of its long and distinguished history in protecting the rights of workers and children:

FOR its commitment to equal economic and educational opportunities for all Americans;

FOR encouraging innovation and creativity in the arts and humanities;

FOR advancing medical research, and

FOR it leadership in strengthening the social fabric of the country.

To the Committee!

Following the Toast, The Honorable Tom Coleman, Chairman of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society Board of Trustees, introduced Chairman Tom Harkin.  Senator Harkin reflected on his life-long friendship with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society’s founder, fellow Iowan and former Congressman Fred Schwengel.  Senator Harkin recalled going on long elaborate tours of the Capitol with Congressman Schwengel and claims to be one of the few people to visit just about every room.  Senator Harkin also reflected on being personally asked by Senator Ted Kennedy to be a member of the HELP Committee and the great pieces of legislation, most notably the Americans with Disabilities Act, which they were able to pass together.

Chairman Harkin ended by proudly stating “…[T]he HELP committee is the committee that defines America.  …This is the light we shine to the world.  People of different religions and ethnic backgrounds and races can all live together.  We can have our differences; we can work them out; and we can move ahead as a society.”

Dr. Donald Ritchie, Senate Historian, gave the keynote address tracing the evolution of committees and their increasing role in the daily functioning of Congress.  Starting as temporary groups of Senators appointed to discuss specific topics, the committee system has grown to numerous standing committees with both minority and majority staffs.  Dr. Ritchie emphasized that “committees are the heart of the legislative process.”

Dr. Ritchie continued to trace the expanding jurisdiction of this Committee and its landmark legislations that have affected and enhanced the lives of all Americans.  From barring child labor to mandating the eight-hour work day, Dr. Ritchie confessed that if he would list all of the Committee’s landmark legislation “you might suspect me of filibustering.”  His celebration of the work done in congressional committees, specifically in the HELP Committee, was a fitting tribute to all the work done by Members and staff.

The evening concluded with remarks from Ranking Member Michael B. Enzi, who first recognized the tremendous work of the past and present staff members, asking those present to stand.  He reflected on his journey to the Senate HELP Committee from working at his father’s shoe store growing up and later becoming a professional accountant and mayor.  Senator Enzi poignantly remarked on his personal and professional relationship with the late Senator Kennedy, who taught him about compromise and getting bills passed by focusing on the core issues on which 80% of people could agree.  Ranking Member Enzi set a positive outlook for the future work of the Committee stating, “It has gotten a lot of things done, it has to get a lot of things done. …America needs it and we’ll keep producing for you.”

The Society annually hosts a dinner to honor the history of a Committee of the House or Senate.



Click here to read the coverage of this event by The Hill newspaper.

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