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Democrats Consider Who Will Succeed Kennedy Atop Health Committee

By Paul Kane
Democrats remained uncertain Wednesday who would succeed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as chairman of the health committee, as his responsibilities have been divided among several members of the panel since he was diagnosed in May 2008 with brain cancer.

The panel -- formally known as the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- is typically referred by insiders as the HELP committee, in part to signal its broad reach into most domestic issues. Kennedy ruled as the top Democrat on the committee for more than two decades, using the perch to serve as the Senate's lead agitator for increasing the minimum wage, expanding civil rights to cover the handicapped and gay Americans, and for promoting what he long called "the cause of my life" -- universal health care.

A new chairman won't be formally selected until senators return from their August recess. Legislative business for the fall session is slated to begin Sept. 8.

The first Democrat in line in committee seniority now is Kennedy's closest friend in the Senate, Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who shepherded the health-care legislation through the HELP committee in June and July.

Dodd, however, already chairs the banking committee, and he would have to give up that gavel in order to take up the legislative legacy of Kennedy. Dodd's banking committee has placed him in the spotlight of the most intense legislative battles of the last year, including housing legislation in the summer of 2008, the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry and an ongoing effort to rewrite the regulatory makeup of federal agencies overseeing banks and financial services industry.

Dodd told reporters Wednesday that he would ponder his options over the coming days. "I haven't given that a second's worth of thought," Dodd said of assuming Kennedy's chairmanship. "I really don't have an answer to that really."

If Dodd were to pass on taking the HELP chairmanship, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has the next chance to take over the panel. But Harkin already chairs the Agriculture Committee, which is of critical importance to his home state, and Harkin is not believed to be interested in the HELP gavel.

That would leave Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) next in line to chair the committee. She has already been overseeing the education portfolio of that panel in Kennedy's stead, and she led the passage of major reforms to Pell grants last year. The HELP committee is slated to consider a reauthorization of the landmark No Child Left Behind legislation that Kennedy co-authored in 2002.

If Dodd were to take Kennedy's chairmanship, that would set up another key decision for Democrats, about who succeeds him at the banking committee. Behind Dodd in seniority is Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who returned to the chamber after suffering a brain aneurysm in December 2006. Next in line after Johnson is Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

By Paul Kane  |  August 26, 2009; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  Dem. Leaders , Senate  
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Next: Video: Ted Kennedy, in 1971, Fights for Health-Care Reform Against Nixon, Insurers


Frankly, I don't care who succeeds Kennedy to chair this committee.

What I do NOT want to see is a bunch of sloppy sentimentality having any affect whatever on the opposition to the health care bill under consideration at present!!

Posted by: OregonStorm | August 26, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Democrats must realize that there are many of us that never held Ted in any sort of reverence and that it's foolish to use the passing of any one person to further an agenda that would affect the entire population.

Posted by: thebink | August 26, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

My heart felt condolences are sent to family and friends.

At the end of our lives we have resumes
filled with good and bad. Nobody is perfect.

However, Senator Kennedy's book will be
overfilled with hard work and over achievements during his time in the Senate.

I pray his vision of health care for all people of the USA comes to being.

Health care for all is burst of sunshine of his continued legacy.

That not only the rich and privledged get cared for. All citizens are entitled to this in the USA like all other socialized and civilized nations.

Honorable Senator Kennedy RIP for after all your hard work you deserve it!

Posted by: deborahzaki | August 26, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Well, DeborahZaki certainly laid it on the line: If you want America to become just another socialist nation, then support ObamaCare.

I like America the way it is: Capitalist and free.

Capitalism is freedom.

Posted by: sinz52 | August 26, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone really believe Chris Dodd, "I haven't given that a second's worth of thought,"? What a crock!

Posted by: dirish613 | August 26, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Im sure the liberal democrats will want someone like joseph mengele to replace kennedy for obama's push on 'experiment on americans' health-care.

Posted by: JWx2 | August 26, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: glinesfamilyfive | August 26, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

First, my condolences to Ted's friends and family. I'm sure they will miss him.

However, for me - Thank God he's out of the Senate. Sadly, our system doesn't have term limits. The only way you can get rid of the elitists is to wait for them to die.
Here's an example of an elitist at work:
Ted fought to change the MA law to keep the Governor (A GOP Governor was in office at the time)from appointing someone to a Senate vacancy. Then, when he realized that his new law is now effecting HIM, he wanted it reversed (now that there is a Democrap Governor in office). LOL...yea, he was working hard for the people all right...only if it helped get him something in return. If you believe Ted Kennedy really cared for anyone other than himself, I've got some cheap Idaho ocean front property you might be interested in.

Posted by: NO-bama | August 26, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I like how people like sinz52 pronounce that our country is Capitalist and free. We are free because we have a representative government (We the People). And if the people want national healthcare then it will be, just like social security, medicare and medicaid. Capitalism isn't mentioned once in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution. The same scare tactics and cries of our country ending if we have national healthcare were decried when social security, medicare and medicaid were proposed.

Posted by: blaiser1 | August 26, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Why do politician's insist on staying in office until they die of old age? The transition from this process is terrible for their constituents. It applies to all parties. Take a look at Senators Byrd, McCain and Lieberman, for example--Ds, Rs, and I's--all seem to think they will live forever as a politician. They don't.

Posted by: benighse | August 26, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, I don't care who succeeds Kennedy to chair this committee.

What I do NOT want to see is a bunch of sloppy sentimentality having any affect whatever on the opposition to the health care bill under consideration at present!!

Posted by: OregonStorm | August 26, 2009 2:57 PM

you don't scare anybody you townhall terrorist.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | August 26, 2009 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Why don't they appoint Zombie Reagan? Man, he was the awesomest politician ever!

Posted by: ccs4756 | September 2, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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