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Harkin Takes Over Kennedy's Senate Chairmanship

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., set in motion some musical chairs among Senate Democrats over committee chairmanships this afternoon, even though he is the one staying put.

Following Ted Kennedy's death, Dodd was next in line to be chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP). Dodd had been spearheading the committee's effort on health care legislation in Kennedy's absence.

But Dodd is already chairman of Senate Banking Committee and cannot hold both positions at once. He announced today that he decided to hold on to that chairmanship rather than give it up to take the gavel in the HELP committee.

That decision meant that the committee's next senior Democrat, Tom Harkin of Iowa, pictured at left, was in line to take the HELP Committee chairmanship, and he accepted, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today.

In order to take the new job, Harkin will be giving his chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, handing that gavel to Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

As for the policy implications of the moves, there is not likely to be much change in the direction of the HELP and Agriculture committees, but Dodd's decision to continue leading the Banking Committee could have an impact on President Obama's push to overhaul the federal regulatory structure in the wake of last year's financial crisis.

Many had been expecting Dodd to take the HELP Committee chairmanship and leave the Banking Committee to Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota. Johnson, a Senate moderate, has been more resistant to more sweeping restrictions on the industry, in part because many credit card companies operate in his home state. Special Report: Health Care Special Report: Ted Kennedy

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