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The lion passes

After a month of contentious town hall meetings Congress returned to our nation's Capitol to find the political and policy agenda as unclear as ever. Not only have the health care and global warming debates been pushed back again, but the death of Senator Ted Kennedy has put many Democrat Senate leadership positions in a tailspin.

Regardless of one's political affiliation or opinion of Senator Kennedy, there is no doubt that his presence on the Senate floor, in committee rooms and in individual meetings with colleagues will be missed. Kennedy was fiercely partisan in public, never shying away from the "liberal" label. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who oftentimes went toe-to-toe with Kennedy on the floor, once commented that Senator Kennedy could spend hours rallying against all Republicans during the day, and at night convince individual Republicans that he wasn't talking to that particular member.

Since Senator Kennedy was the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, a replacement must be selected. Leading the HELP Committee is a prestigious position. The early front-runner was Christopher Dodd from Connecticut. However, he is currently in charge of the Banking Committee and has a long interest in reforming the financial regulatory system. Since no one member can serve as the chairman of two committees, Dodd would have to give up his Banking Committee gavel. Next on the list is Tom Harkin from Iowa, who Aggies know well since he is the chair of the Agriculture Committee. It's widely speculated that Harkin will give up his post on Ag to jump over to HELP. HELP handles more popular issues that major news media cover like health care, education and union policies. This switch would give Harkin more national exposure.

Assuming Harkin takes the HELP leap, the next three Democrats in line to lead the Agriculture Committee are Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana. However, all three currently serve as chairs of very powerful committees (Judiciary, Budget, and Finance, respectively) and would likely not want to switch over to Ag. That puts Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas in a prime spot. She's next in seniority and currently running for re-election. Serving as Chair of the Agriculture Committee could give Lincoln a helping hand in her campaign. It's been a long time since a southern Democrat led the Senate Agriculture Committee. With Lincoln as the chair and Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss as the top Republican, southern producers would certainly reap the benefits of having two of their own in such powerful positions.

Needless to say, a lot has changed in the last four weeks. The passing of an icon has impacts far removed from simply Massachusetts or the health care debate. The "liberal lion" was a formidable opponent to conservatives, an inspiration for many, and certainly will be missed.

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