By Paul Kane, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) has decided against succeeding his close friend and mentor, the late Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) as chairman of the Senate’s health committee,
a senior Senate aide said Tuesday night.
The decision sets in motion a final game of musical chairs involving committee chairmanships after Kennedy’s death.
Dodd’s decision leaves the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who follows Dodd in seniority. Multiple sources in the Harkin orbit, requesting anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that he is certain to take over the HELP committee.
Harkin is currently chairman of the Agriculture Committee and would have to give up that position. He would likely be replaced at Agriculture by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who faces a difficult reelection bid in 2010. Other Democrats are more senior than her on the Agriculture Committee, but they hold more prestigious chairmanships already.
Dodd has scheduled a Wednesday news conference for 11 a.m. to announce his decision. His aides did not respond to questions about the decision Tuesday evening, and the senator declined to answer reporters’ questions as he entered the chamber for an evening vote.
While Kennedy battled brain cancer for 15 months, Dodd, Harkin and other Democrats on the committee divided up the chairman’s responsibilities, with Dodd overseeing the panel’s health-care legislation. When the Senate takes up that critical legislation later this year, Dodd is expected to continue being the public face of that committee’s effort, a decision that might give him a boost in a tough reelection battle in 2010.
By remaining as banking chairman, Dodd will now oversee a complex rewrite of the regulations overseeing the financial services industry — a sector that critics have accused him of being too close to in his personal and legislative dealings. A financial regulatory bill with tough new regulations on that industry might help beat back some of those critics