Senators vying for seat on power panel

With many of President Bush’s top domestic legislative priorities facing the scrutiny of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, lawmakers are jockeying for at least one more slot each party will have on the panel.

Three Democratic slots opened up because of the defeat of Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) and the retirements of John Breaux (La.) and Bob Graham (Fla.), while at least one Republican seat became available with the retirement of Don Nickles (Okla.).

One of the Democratic seats has been promised to Charles Schumer (N.Y.) after he decided not to run for governor in 2006 and agreed to head up the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
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Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.)

The panel currently has 11 Republicans, nine Democrats and independent Jim Jeffords (Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats.

However, to reflect the increased Republican majority, the ratio of the committee is expected to be changed.

One scenario would give the GOP an extra seat, for a 12-10 split. A more likely configuration would have the Democrats losing one of their open seats, which would give Republicans an 11-nine split.

The two leading candidates for the remaining Democratic spot are seen to be Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), who each easily won reelection this month.

What could tip the scale in Bayh’s favor is that he voted against the Medicare prescription-drug bill last year.

Earlier this year, staffers and Democratic lobbyists indicated that the Medicare vote could be the deciding factor. At the time, a leadership aide said there was no litmus test, but a healthcare lobbyist said the Medicare vote could work against Wyden, who is active on healthcare and drafted a compromise drug bill.

A Senate leadership aide said this week that the Medicare vote clearly is an important factor.

On the Republican side, Michael Crapo (Idaho), who cruised to reelection with 99 percent of the vote, is seen as the most likely choice to fill Nickles’s seat. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) and Sam Brownback (Kan.) are seen as two possible picks if Crapo does not get the nod, according to K Street and Finance Committee sources.

Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who comes from a conservative state, could be given a choice committee assignment to help him win reelection in 2006. Nelson said any senator would be interested in a spot on the Finance or Appropriations committee.

Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is also mentioned as a possible candidate for the Finance Committee. The move to the panel would bolster her r

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