Changing Chairs (Without the Music) in the Senate

Washington insiders and business interests in several industries are keeping a close eye on what happens as a result of last month’s death of longtime Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy. The question is who will be the new permanent chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), who guided health care overhaul legislation through HELP as acting chairman, must decide whether to remain as head of the Banking Committee or make the move to HELP. He cannot serve as chair for both.

Bankers are apparently hoping Dodd makes the latter choice. They say Dodd has taken a hardline approach against their industry in an effort to boost his sagging poll numbers as he approaches re-election. If Dodd moves on, Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) would likely be offered the Banking Committee chairmanship. Johnson would be expected to be a more moderate influence on the panel.

An outside possibility has Iowa’s Tom Harkin giving up leadership of the Agriculture Committee to take over HELP.

Stay tuned. Decisions should be made soon.