An Iowa Democrat is slated to take over the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, succeeding the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who died of brain cancer last month.
Sen. Tom Harkin, who worked on a portion of the committee's health care overhaul bill this summer, will take over the committee after Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, turned the post down to remain as head of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
The role puts Mr. Harkin at the center of the struggle to pass a health reform bill. Under Mr. Dodd's guidance during Mr. Kennedy's illness, the Health committee passed its portion of the bill in July but is waiting on the Senate Finance Committee to finish up work on its version of the bill. Then, the two committees will put the legislation together with the Senate Democratic leadership.
Mr. Dodd said he struggled with the decision to assume the chairmanship of the committee run by his close friend Mr. Kennedy, but he ultimately decided to remain as chairman of the banking panel instead.
"A lot needs to be done on that committee," Mr. Dodd said, citing major new financial reforms expected to be debated this fall.
The musical chairs will continue with Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which Mr. Harkin previously held.
Mrs. Lincoln, whose father was a rice farmer in Arkansas, is the first woman to hold the post.