KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Dodd Wrestles With HELP Chairmanship Decision As Officials Consider How To Fill Kennedy’s Seat

"Grieving the loss of his close friend Ted Kennedy, Sen. Chris Dodd is also faced with one of the most significant political choices of his Senate career," Politico reports.

"The Connecticut Democrat could grab Kennedy's gavel and assume the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, putting himself in the center of a historic health care debate at crunch time. Or he could keep his Banking Committee chairmanship and try to forge ahead with a major overhaul of financial regulations that could help dispel the perception that he is cozy with Wall Street. … Democratic leadership sources said Wednesday they will bless his decision – one way or another – and prepare for the potential transfer of power in other committees" (Bresgbagab and Raju, 8/26).

The Associated Press reports that Dodd is promising to carry on Kennedy's work: "Some analysts believe taking over Kennedy's committee could give Dodd appropriate distance from the financial issues that have hurt his popularity over the past year. It also would make him a key player on an issue that has sparked impassioned debate across the country and take him back to issues from early in his Senate career involving children, education and families" (Miga, 8/27).

The Hill: "Complicating the decision is that Dodd is facing the most difficult reelection of his career next year and polls show him trailing his Republican opponent by nearly 10 points." Sources close to Dodd told The Hill that his preference initially was to stay at Banking "to finish financial regulatory reform and then take over HELP at the beginning of next year." Another source said it would be impossible to predict how Dodd's decisionmaking may not be changed. "Dodd will want to make sure he is in the best position to advance the work Kennedy started on healthcare reform" (Bolton, 8/26).

The Wall Street Journal: "Senate aides said they expect him to take over the Health Committee, leaving open the Banking Committee chairmanship just when Mr. Obama is hoping the committee will take up his legislation reregulating the financial-services industry" (King and Weisman, 8/27).

Roll Call: "Dodd said he remains optimistic that the Senate can approve a major health care overhaul this year. He said he was hopeful that 'Teddy's passing' will remind Senators that they were elected to 'get a job done'" (Drucker, 8/26).

The Christian Science Monitor reports that legislators are grappling what to do with Kennedy's Senate seat, which under current law will stay "empty for more than five months, until [Massachusetts] can hold a special election to fill it."

"This was not what Kennedy wanted. In a letter addressed to the Massachusetts governor, state Senate president, and House speaker, which was made public last week, Kennedy asked lawmakers to allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement for an empty Senate seat, until an election could be held. … Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, both Democrats, released a joint statement last Thursday in response to Kennedy's letter. Although expressing regard for the senator, they were noncommittal on his appeal" (Samuelson, 8/26).

The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday that he'd sign a bill that was in line with Kennedy's wishes: "'I'd like the Legislature to take up the bill quickly and get it to my desk and I will sign it,' Patrick said in an interview with the Globe, reiterating in his strongest terms what he had been saying throughout the day, as the state and nation absorbed Kennedy's death and what it would mean for Massachusetts, and for the chamber he served for a half-century" (Phillips, 8/27).

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