Colorado’s Bennet picked for key U.S. Senate panel
The Denver Post
WASHINGTON – Sen. Michael Bennet received a coveted spot on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday, jumping over the heads of several more senior senators to fill a slot opened by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
“With this assignment, Colorado has a unique opportunity to help build a healthy and educated workforce that can compete in the new economy,” Bennet, D-Colo., said in a release announcing the appointment.
A former head of Denver Public Schools who was appointed to the Senate this year, Bennet is a nationally known school reformer and the HELP committee is expected to shepherd significant legislation on education over the next 12 months.
But it’s the committee’s central role in the health care debate that had set off behind-the-scenes maneuvering for the slot by several lawmakers. The health panel has passed reform legislation that could be merged on the Senate floor with the health care reform bill moving through the Senate Finance Committee.
Committee assignments usually are allocated by seniority, but the process also can be political, and the Senate leadership and committee chairs have the discretion to let lawmakers jump the line.
The assignment likely reflects Bennet’s connections to the White House’s education team, analysts said. But there is little doubt that Senate leaders also saw the committee seat as a plum they could use to help protect a vulnerable incumbent, they said.
“The Democratic congressional leadership is using their power to help Bennet in his tough primary,” said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster. “This move up should give him clout and visibility.”
Colorado’s junior senator was appointed in January by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill a vacancy and faces a primary against former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and what could be a rocky election year in Colorado for Democrats.
The Senate slot should help Bennet’s effort to craft a comprehensive education reform bill – a goal he announced this year – as well as give him an enhanced voice in health care reform.
In announcing the appointment, HELP Committee chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, cited Bennet’s unique experience as an educator and urban school superintendent.
“He now brings this unique experience and advocacy for working families to the Senate HELP Committee, where the policies we consider touch the daily lives of all Americans,” Harkin said.
The committee handles legislation dealing with the country’s health care, schools, employment and retirement programs. It is also responsible for oversight of the federal departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Labor.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Bennet is “uniquely qualified” for the seat based on his time at the helm of DPS and that his “knowledge and experience will be an asset to our country.”
With the appointment, Bennet will give up his seat on the Homeland Security committee but keep his spots on the agriculture and banking committees as well as the select committee on aging.