Warner eyed for Finance post

Greg Nash

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is seen as a front-runner for a prestigious seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, according to lobbyists and congressional aides.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is slated to leave the panel as early as next month in order to become the next U.S. ambassador to China.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is expected to take up Baucus’s gavel, but the Democratic opening on the panel — the majority has 12 seats — has not yet been decided.

The slot is a plum prize, given Senate Finance’s jurisdiction over taxes, trade and health entitlements like Medicare.

Warner, first elected in 2008, is making a major push for the seat, according to sources following the issue. They said he has been keenly interested in overhauling the tax code and curbing entitlement spending, and is greatly interested in joining the panel.

Warner was an active participant in the bipartisan Gang of Six talks on a deficit grand bargain in 2011.

A Finance Committee slot also could have political benefits for Warner, who is up for reelection this year.

While recent polls have him comfortably in the lead, Warner is now facing a challenge from former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.

Warner's spokesman said he could not comment on whether the Virginia Democrat was interested in the soon-to-be-open Finance Committee slot.

Warner expressed interest in late 2012, when there was another Democratic opening, but that seat went to Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.

One lobbyist and former aide said, while Warner is most likely to get the spot, female senators are giving leaders some "pushback" over another male senator getting the position.

Other names being bandied about for the post are Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who is keenly interested in expanding healthcare reform.

Neither Klobuchar's or Whitehouse's offices responded to request for comment about whether they are interested in joining the Finance Committee.

Klobuchar, elected in 2006, has more seniority than Warner and would be the third female Democrat on the panel. Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) also hold seats on the powerful committee.

Klobuchar is vice chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and also serves on the Senate Agriculture panel, which will go into partial hibernation if the farm bill passes.

Both she and Warner are also mentioned as possible future Democratic candidates for president.

To make a move, however, Klobuchar would have to give up either her Agriculture or Commerce committee seat.

Democratic rules forbid members from serving on more than one of three “super A” committees: Appropriations, Armed Services and Finance, or on more than two of a wider list of top committees total.

A plausible case could also be made for putting Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) on the panel, several aides said.

Hagan, who is in a toss-up reelection race this year, could gain from getting access to the powerful panel.

On the other hand, she already sits on the Banking Committee, which is important, given the status of North Carolina as a banking center.

Any committee appointment is subject to approval by the full Democratic caucus based on nominations from the party steering committee, which is controlled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other leaders.

A pro-business Democrat, Warner's addition to the committee could be appealing to Reid on several fronts, some sources following the matter said.

He has good relations with Wall Street and the broader business community, especially with the high-tech sector. He also has demonstrated the ability to sway centrist Democrats, a former leadership aide said.

“Ever since he came to the Senate, he's tried to impress the leadership with his knowledge and contacts within the business community and more centrist Democrats,” a former leadership aide told The Hill.

“He's trying to make himself the new go-to for the business community,” the former aide said.

Warner is chairman of the Banking subcommittee on National Security, International Trade and Finance. He also sits on the Budget panel, which might try to move a budget blueprint this year.

He also serves on the Commerce, Joint Economic, and the Rules and Administration committees.

Warner would have to give up either his seat on the Banking or Commerce Committee to move to the Finance panel.

He is working closely with Banking panel member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on a bill that would wind down mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and make changes to the mortgage finance system.