Senate Democrats moved quickly to fill the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chair vacated by the late August death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.). Sen. Tom Harkin (D, Iowa) took over the helm. Although Sen. Chris Dodd (D, Conn.) was the committee Democrat with the most Senate experience -- he was elected in 1980 -- Dodd announced on Sept. 9 that he would instead retain the chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Committee chairs are distributed based on seniority, but senators can't hold more than one chair at a time. At Kennedy's request, Dodd chaired the HELP Committee's health reform hearings over the summer, concluding with the panel's party-line approval of the Affordable Health Choices Act in July. Dodd said he would continue to lead the committee's health reform effort. The bill is expected to be merged eventually with a measure from the Senate Finance Committee. After Dodd's demurral, Harkin announced on Sept. 9 that he would take over as head of the HELP Committee. Harkin vacated the chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D, Ark.) now will fill. Harkin, first elected in 1984, is perhaps best-known for championing the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. He also fought President George W. Bush's ban on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research and has supported efforts to increase funding for medical research and improve nutrition in schools. "It is a daunting prospect to be taking over the Kennedy committee," Harkin said. But Dodd said he has much confidence in Harkin. "The HELP Committee couldn't be in better hands." The HELP Committee has jurisdiction over many health care issues, including public health, biomedical research and many aspects of health system reform. In taking a pass on the chairmanship, Dodd said he has unfinished business in the Senate Banking Committee, including finishing consumer financial protection legislation this fall. Sen. Mike Enzi (R, Wyo.) the highest-ranking GOP member on the HELP Committee, welcomed Harkin as head of the panel. Enzi said he worked with the new chair on establishing a job training center for young adults in Wyoming. "We share a strong commitment to helping at-risk youth receive the education and training they need to be successful." The full and original article can be found here: