WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sen. Tom Harkin will replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy as chairman of the important Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the news Wednesday afternoon while speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill. Harkin is a Democrat from Iowa.
There was speculation that Sen. Chris Dodd would replace Kennedy as chairman of the committee. Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, had been steering the panel this year, as Kennedy battled brain cancer. Kennedy died two weeks ago.
The HELP committee is one of two Senate panels that worked on health care reform legislation.
The HELP committee, with Dodd filling in for Kennedy, passed a health care bill earlier this summer. The Senate Finance Committee continues to work towards a possible bipartisan bill.
Dodd announced today that he will remain as chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, rather than take over the HELP Committee.
Harkin's elevation as chairman of HELP means he'll step down as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Reid announced that Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat from Arkansas, will become the new chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee. Lincoln becomes the first woman and first senator from Arkansas to chair the Agriculture Committee.
Both Lincoln and Dodd face what could be tough tests for re-election next year.
– CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser and Producer Virginia Nicolaidis contributed to this report