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Musical Committee Chairs; Baucus Health Care Bill Coming Next Week

At a press conference announcing the latest changes in Senate chairmanships, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, announced he will introduce a health care bill in the committee next week, with markup planned for the following Monday (Sept. 21).

Baucus said he will introduce the bill "whether there is bipartisan support or not," though he insisted a bipartisan plan is still his goal. He also said it will not include a public option. He plans to meet with the bipartisan Group of Six this afternoon as negotiations continue.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), as has been previously reported, will not leave his current post as chairman of the Banking Committee to take over the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chairmanship left vacant by Kennedy's death. Taking over the HELP Committee will be Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), current chairman of the Agricultre Committee. Replacing Harkin on Agriculture will be Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).

In July, Dodd helped shepherd a health care bill through Kennedy's committee.

"The HELP Committee couldn't be in better hands," Dodd said at a group press conference with Majority Leader Harry Reid, Baucus, Harkin and Lincoln.

Harkin has been in the Senate for 25 years and previously served five terms in the House. He's chaired Agriculture since 2007, but now hands the reins over to Lincoln, who's facing a difficult political atmosphere back home as she runs for re-election next year.

"It is a daunting prospect" taking over Kennedy's committee, Harkin said at the press conference, "one that I appreciate."

While not the next most senior member on the committee, Lincoln takes the helm of Agriculture because Sens. Patrick Leahy (Judiciary), Kent Conrad (Budget) and Baucus (Finance) already chair other, more prestigious, committees. Lincoln becomes the first woman and first Arkansan to hold the Ag chairmanship.