Senate Dems sidestep seniority

The Senate Democratic leadership circumvented seniority yesterday by making two surprising appointments to the Senate Appropriations and Finance panels. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who lost his seniority after retiring in 2000, was named to the Appropriations panel with Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Lautenberg, reelected in 2002 after a two-year hiatus, ranks behind several members of the freshman class of 2000, who serve on neither Appropriations nor Finance, the chamber’s two most coveted panels. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), each elected in 2000, will stay off those panels for another two years.

Two others, who just won elections to second Senate terms, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), will join Finance next year. But Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) has snagged the third open slot on Finance, leapfrogging Carper, who had lobbied for it. Salazar has four years less Senate seniority than Carper.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will serve as chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee. Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) is the ranking Democrat on Rules, but he will instead head the Senate Banking Committee.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) will head the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee despite winning reelection as an independent last week.