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Sifting Through Specter’s New Committee Powers

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he’s worked out an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that will allow the Senate’s newest Democrat to be seated on committees as if he’d entered the upper chamber in 1980 as a Democrat rather than a Republican.

“In discussing that issue with Sen. Reid,” Specter said, “the fair approach which we both agreed to was to be where I would be had I been a Democrat coming into the Senate with my election in 1980. So you can take a look at the charts and figure out exactly where I’d be.”

Notwithstanding any arrangements that Specter might have failed to mention, that means that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has six years seniority on Specter, would remain at the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee (where Specter was the senior Republican until today), and would also outrank Specter on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Asked, however, if he might be in line to take over the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee’s subpanel on labor, health and education, which is currently chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Specter said only that “we haven’t worked that out yet.”

Harkin, who was first elected to the Senate in 1985, was in the middle of presiding over a swine flu hearing Tuesday afternoon as Specter was making his remarks. You can bet, however, that he’ll be interested to learn that his seat might be up for grabs.

Also of note, Specter will outrank all of the Democrats on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, including chairman Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who first arrived in the Senate in 1990. Does that mean Specter will replace Akaka at the head of the VA panel? We’re looking into it.

Update: The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has clarified that no committee or subcommittee chairmanship posts will change this year or next as a result of Specter’s switch.

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