Dodd chooses banking gavel over HELP

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) will announce on Wednesday morning that he will remain as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, opting not to take over as chairman of the health panel.

Three Washington sources said Tuesday evening that Dodd has decided not to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The formal announcement is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Congress is entering a critical period of debate on healthcare reform legislation, President Obama's top domestic priority and the topic of a prime-time address on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night.

Dodd will continue to play a pivotal role as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Lawmakers are weighing a major overhaul of the financial industry in an effort to head off future economic crises. Dodd helmed the HELP committee for most of the year as Kennedy battled brain cancer.

Since Kennedy died, Dodd -- a close friend of the late Massachusetts senator -- has remained quiet about the decision.

“We'll make a decision shortly, but not tonight,” Dodd said late on Tuesday.

Dodd was the second-ranking Democrat behind Kennedy on the HELP committee.

Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinThe Hill's 12:30 Report Distance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday Grassley challenger no stranger to defying odds MORE (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, would be next in line behind Dodd to replace Kennedy as HELP committee chairman. If Harkin chose to do so, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) would then likely replace Harkin at the agriculture panel as the next member in line who does not now hold a committee gavel.

Like Dodd, Harkin is a proponent of the public option, which has not been included in the healthcare proposal released by the Finance Committee.