The Senate Shuffle

The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy opens up a prime committee chairmanship in the U.S. Senate, which has the chance to set off a scramble for power and turf among Democrats.

The person with the biggest choice right now is Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who is next in line to chair the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee in the wake of Kennedy’s death.

Dodd though is already Chairman of the Senate Banking panel, a highly sought after post all on its own.

Dodd gets the first choice here – if he switches – then his number two on Banking will be in line for the chairmanship.  That’s Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota.

But if Dodd stays on Banking, then the Health Committee could go to Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who would certainly rival Kennedy in terms of his more liberal leanings.

It would be a perfect pairing for Harkin, who also chairs the subcommittee on Appropriations dealing with health issues.

Sen. Kennedy’s death also creates some interesting times for his staffers in the Senate, many of whom have played integral roles in the creation of health care legislation.

Some of them would most certainly stay on with the Health Committee, but others would likely be moved out to make way for staff more closely associated with the new Chairman.

The other unknown centers around the staff in Kennedy’s personal office.  If Massachusetts state law isn’t changed, then they will get to stick around into next year on the federal payroll.

But if a new Senator is named, there’s always the chance that some people could be moved out by the new Senator and the new Senator’s senior staff members.  Usually most people stick around, but there’s always some who will take the chance to leave.

The same machinations are going on right now in the office of Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, as he is preparing to resign his seat after Labor Day.