Everyone agrees that it will be a long time before there’s another Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions chairman like the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. Folks described him as a passionate advocate for disadvantaged kids and marveled at his ability to bring disparate groups around the table.
Still, the committee has a lot of business to tackle, including the reauthorizations of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Someone will have to shepherd those measures through, and we’ll likely find out who that will be soon.
The smart money says it will either be Sen. Chris Dodd, of Connecticut, the top ranking Democrat on the committee, orSen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.
Dodd was one of Kennedy’s closest friends in the Senate and has been leading the charge on health care, the top domestic priority for congressional Democrats. But he’d have to give up his chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee.
The complication: Dodd is in a precarious position in terms of reelection, mostly because of his handling of the financial crisis. (Check out this poll, which has himtrailing a Republican contender, former Rep. Rob Simmons, by nine points, not good for an incumbent who’s been around for more than three decades.)
It might not be a great idea for Dodd to look like he’s turning his back on banking, an issue that’s hugely important to his home state. Of course, his leadership on health care might affect his reelection chances.
If Dodd decides he’s better off sticking with his banking position, and if his colleagues don’t decide to waive the rules to let him have two committees at once, Harkin would be likely to step in. Harkin, a long-time champion of kids with disabilities and a big fan of federal funding for school facilities, is already the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
But lots of folks think he’d be willing to give up that job, especially since he’s also the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees education spending. If he took the helm at the Senate education committee, he would be in charge of both money and policy for K-12, great news for Harkin fans.
Another important question: Who are some of the rising stars in the Senate who share Kennedy’s passion for education? Many folks point to Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, also a Democrat and the former superintendent of Denver public schools. One lobbyist told me he’s a point guy for the White House on K-12 issues, even though he’s not on the Senate education committee.
UPDATE: In the comments section, Washington folks pointed to two potential power-brokers I missed: Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Barbra Mikulski of Maryland.
Any other suggestions?