Sep 07 2009

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“BOX-NOSTICATIONS” (First in an occasional series predictive pieces)

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Chris Dodd Predicts the Future of Health Reform?

  • The passing of Senator Kennedy creates an opening for the Chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee in the Senate at a most sensitive time. As Chairmanships are awarded by seniority, Kennedy’s passing provides Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) with fresh if uncertain opportunity.
  • Dodd is Chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, but also the ranking Member on the HELP Committee, which he de facto chaired in Kennedy’s absence. He can stay put or move over to HELP and pick up the Kennedy mantle on universal health care.
  • His choice represents the tea leaves of the coming health care reform debate.
  • According to most accounts, the deal is done. Dodd will relinquish Banking and move to HELP and jump into the struggle to pass health care this year where Dodd’s legislative experience and influence will be crucial.
  • But is it the right move for Dodd personally? Dodd is up for re-election next year and has probably experienced one of his worst periods in public office this past autumn and winter as he was battered for his personal ties to insurance and finance firms which his Committee ostensibly regulated; companies which were at the root of last autumn’s financial crisis.
  • Having had a rough winter, Dodd has moved aggressively to find his footing by holding hearings and sponsoring populist legislation, such as a bill on credit card fees. The Administration’s plan for a financial overhaul of Wall Street will come under his Banking Committee’s jurisdiction. Notionally, there is no better platform for Dodd to mend his battered image than to champion financial reform.
  • But where is the benefit for Dodd in taking over HELP?  Unless the President and the Democrats are willing to radically revise their strategy and agree to provisions that will draw Republican support, the final bill will be passed on a party line vote, against substantial opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats. This will only worsen Dodd’s standing back home.
  • And if health reform dies this year, Dodd will be held to account for its failure by Democrats.  It is a no-win situation.
  • Moreover, the Dodd move doesn’t make sense for the Democratic Caucus.  Tim Johnson, who would nominally replace Dodd on Banking if he made the move to HELP, voted against the Stimulus bill and Dodd’s credit card bill in Committee.  Is this the guy Democrats want leading the charge on financial reform?
  • In contrast, old line liberal icon Tom Harkin is ranking on HELP after Dodd, and would take over the Committee if Dodd turned down the chairmanship. Harkin does not need to face the voters until 2014, giving him the running room necessary to carry the President’s agenda in a politically perilous arena, and he will be reliable and acceptable to Democratic constituencies.
  • Again, the conventional wisdom is that the deal is done. And it may be so.
  • But for a series of political reasons, Caucus-related and personal, watch Chris Dodd.
  • If he opts to stay at Banking, it will reflect his personal estimate, no matter what he says to the contrary, that there is little hope for centrist health care reform this year, which will meet with the approval of the American people, and thus help his re-election.
  • If Dodd does move, it’s an obvious tribute to his old friend, Senator Kennedy, and maybe a renewed positive vision of what is possible.  By the same token, it could be the first sign that Dodd is preparing to give up his bid for re-election.


1 comment

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