Schumer will not challenge Wyden for Finance gavel

Senate Democrats say Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will not challenge Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to become the next chairman of the powerful Finance Committee.

“It would be a bloodbath if Schumer tried to leapfrog Wyden,” said a Senate Democratic aide.

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The Senate Democratic leader has strictly adhered to the seniority ladder when assigning chairmanships or senior Democratic positions on committees for 100 years — and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has given no indication that he will change the practice.

“It would be very unusual not to follow the seniority system,” said another Democratic aide. “If Reid follows the seniority system, the chairmanship of Finance would go to Wyden, if he’s interested.”

The last time a Senate Democratic leader trumped seniority in awarding a committee chairmanship was in 1913, when Sen. Ben Tillman (D-S.C.) was passed over for the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, according to Senate Historian Donald Ritchie.

Brian Fallon, Schumer’s spokesman, declined to comment on whether his boss has ambitions to become chairman of the Finance panel.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) shook up the Senate Democratic Caucus Tuesday by announcing he would not run for re-election in 2014, catching his colleagues and even his staff by surprise.

The second-ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), also plans to retire at the end of next year, putting Wyden next in the line of succession.

Wyden on Tuesday declined to say whether he was interested in taking over the senior Democratic slot on Finance. He became chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in January.

Wyden has clashed with Reid in the past, and alarmed party leaders and liberal colleagues when he co-authored a white paper with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in December of 2011 to reduce Medicare spending. The plan called for the creation of private alternatives to compete with Medicare.

“I believe the most important aspect of Medicare is not the structure of the program but the guarantee to all Americans that they will have high quality health care as they get older,” Wyden wrote in an op-ed published by The Huffington Post.

As chairman of Finance, Wyden would have jurisdiction over the healthcare safety-net program.

One of Wyden’s biggest clashes with Reid came two years ago when he voted against a 2011 government spending bill because the majority leader agreed to a legislative provision that eliminated the Free Choice Voucher provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Wyden authored the provision in the law to give employees the ability to hold employers and insurance companies accountable for offering affordable health insurance plans.

Rockefeller said he thinks Wyden would not pursue controversial policy proposals in collaboration with Republicans if he were to become Finance chairman.

“When you become a committee chairman, you have to stop doing certain things,” said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. “My theory is when you become chairman you actually can’t freelance.”

Rockefeller said if Wyden signed onto a controversial Medicare reform proposal as chairman of Finance, he could not get other Democrats on the panel to support it.

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