UPDATED: Harkin will chair Senate HELP Committee

Senator Ted Kennedy’s death left a vacancy as chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. I had assumed that Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who is looking vulnerable going into his re-election campaign, would jump at the chance to become the HELP committee chairman, but surprisingly, he prefers to remain chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Paul Kane reports for the Washington Post,

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.

Leaving the chairman’s position at Agriculture means Harkin will have less influence over the drafting of the next farm bill. On the other hand, the HELP Committee deals with a range of extremely important issues.

I have contacted Senator Harkin’s office seeking confirmation of this report, and I’ll update this post when I hear back from his staff.

UPDATE: Harkin will replace Kennedy as HELP chairman. His statement is after the jump, along with a statement from Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan.

September 9, 2009

Senator Tom Harkin Statement on Succession of the Senate HELP Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement regarding succession of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).

“Today I am honored to accept the chairmanship of the Senate HELP Committee. To serve in this capacity is to carry on the legacy of Senator Ted Kennedy, who dedicated his life to ensuring that our economy works for all Americans, guaranteeing every child the opportunity to pursue a quality education and, of course, the cause of his life: access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. In this last endeavor, I expect to work closely with Senator Dodd, who has guided the HELP Committee so capably in reporting The Affordable Health Choice Act, and who will continue to play a leading role as health care legislation moves to the Senate floor. ”

“Of course agriculture will always be a key interest to my home state of Iowa, so I intend to remain a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, a Committee I have been on since I first joined the Senate in 1985. My dedication to the Agriculture Committee dates back to my first year in Congress when I served on the House Agriculture Committee in 1975. In that time, I have had the great privilege of serving as Chairman of the Senate Committee during enactment of the 2002 and 2007 farm bills – bipartisan legislation that passed this body by an overwhelming majority. It is because of these bills that support for renewable energy and support for farm income grew exponentially, acres and acres of lands have been preserved through conservation efforts, rural developments efforts grew to help small towns that Americans have access to more fruits and vegetables and food assistance is covered for American families who need it. I intend to remain a member of the Committee.”

STATEMENT OF IDP CHAIRMAN MICHAEL KIERNAN RE: SEN. HARKIN AND H.E.L.P. COMMITTEE

We are obviously thrilled to learn Iowa’s own Sen. Tom Harkin is taking over the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  The new post means an Iowan will play a key role in determining the makeup of health care reform as it moves toward passage this fall.  Sen. Harkin has long been a fighter for expanded, quality, affordable health care for every American.  He’s especially knowledgeable about issues involving Americans with disabilities, having been the lead sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sen. Harkin also has been an outspoken supporter of pension reform in his time in the Senate.  His qualifications on issues related to America’s working men and women are virtually unmatched.

I have no doubt Tom Harkin will take the lessons Iowans have learned from our low-cost, high quality health care environment, and make use of them as he takes over this important leadership position in the United States Senate.  It is not lost on Iowa Democrats that he succeeds the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose passing made the appointment necessary.  Iowa Democrats are deeply proud of Tom Harkin’s record of fighting for the most vulnerable among us, and excited he’ll be in a position to do much more.

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